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Who Is The Litterer? Who Is The Thief?

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    Racer997 started this thread.
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    Who Is The Litterer? Who Is The Thief?

    A friend at work and myself were discussing these two scenarios today. Your opinions, please.

    1) I'm walking down the side of the road looking for scrap. I have a small bag full of aluminum cans that I've found, and a small bag full of little bits of steel. I see something that appears to be metal, and I pick it up only to find out that it's plastic. I put it back on the ground. Did I litter because I had it in my hand for 10 seconds? When does ownership of the item picked up begin? The second I see it? Touch it? Pick it up?


    2) My city picks up plastics, small metals (aluminum soda cans and soup cans and the like, mainly), glass and paper/cardboard as part of a recycling effort. I pay for this service on my garbage bill - the city does not pay me. Not far from the house is a recycling center where people drop off not only these same goods, but also used motor oil and some other things. Oftentimes, sitting in an unmarked corner, there are things like vacuum cleaners and carpet cleaners and whatnot. They are made of all kinds of things that aren't on the city's list for pick-up (although they are clearly worth a bit of $ when parted out), and they are being dropped off in an unmarked area of the recycling center. There is a sign at the center that states, "No Illegal Dumping". I don't know what that means because it's not clearly defined what is and what isn't illegal. I assume that anything that can't be thrown into a landfill would be illegal (like a gallon of mercury or something). Elsewhere it states clearly that paint cannot be dumped, so that's one thing that can't be dropped off. Now suppose I'm there dumping some used motor oil into the proper container, and I see a vacuum cleaner sitting in the corner of the recycle center. After I dump my oil, I wander over to this unmarked area in the corner and toss the vacuum cleaner I see into the back of my truck. Did I just steal? After all, there's no sign that indicates that the area is for appliances, and additionally, I pay the city for the recycle service and recycle center (and they make money on it, no doubt), so if I am paying them to pick up some of my junk, can't I help myself to some junk when I some I like? Also, there is no sign explicitly saying I can't take something that's left there.

    Last edited by Racer997; 11-26-2012 at 01:42 PM.


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    PattyScrap's Avatar
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    As far as the 1st one goes i wouldnt classify that as littering, the second is a little different. I would say it is not stealing if you are not trespassing on any property but if this is a real scenario then it cant hurt to ask someone at the center if you could take the item.

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    If you picked it up you could just take it home and dispose of the trash! And I would contact the place and see if you could help them out by removing all the electronics for them at little or no charge to them!

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    first one.. you would be littering, as You're now in possesion of junk that was found on the ground and you put it back,

    the second one... its borderline, if you're there for a particular reason, going outside of that reason would consider stealing.. my three cents.
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    The first could have differing opinions by those who might ticket you, much like different cops might ticket you for differing levels of "stop" at a stop sign, either of which could be debated, but the likely outcome will depend if you get ticketed in the first place, they'll likely win. Technically when you pick it up you basically take possession of it.

    the second definitely requires positive confirmation from the proprieters, imo. The same rule applies there too though, one day who's in charge might say "sure, take em all", the next day it could be someone else(or maybe even the same fella) who says "nope". I'd still ask

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    1: Under no circumstances would this be considered littering or breaking of any law...at least not yet. Give Obummer his 4 years and Al Gore a bit more money and I'm sure they will make every aspect of environmental responsibility mandatory. Now, if you had packed it in your truck, took it home, decided you didnt want it and returned it...well, maybe then.

    2: Another easy one. If its not on your property, its not yours so you cant take it without permission. It is unfortunate that someone dumped it illegally, and that it will be sent to a landfill instead of recycled properly, but thats the way it goes.

  7. #7
    Racer997 started this thread.
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    Quote Originally Posted by shendog View Post
    1: Under no circumstances would this be considered littering or breaking of any law...at least not yet. Give Obummer his 4 years and Al Gore a bit more money and I'm sure they will make every aspect of environmental responsibility mandatory. Now, if you had packed it in your truck, took it home, decided you didnt want it and returned it...well, maybe then.

    2: Another easy one. If its not on your property, its not yours so you cant take it without permission. It is unfortunate that someone dumped it illegally, and that it will be sent to a landfill instead of recycled properly, but thats the way it goes.
    Playing devil's advocate here - technically the cans and small bits of steel I pick up in the first scenario is stealing too, then. I don't have permission to walk the side of the road and pick up anything. Granted I doubt anyone would ever say anything about it since I'm doing the city a favor by picking up trash and recycling it, but technically no one gave me permission to do so. It is, however, not on private property, which the second scenario exists on since it is owned by the city or someone else that the city subcontracts to.

    Which reminds me - another friend and I were speaking of something similar a while back. You dumpster dive in the neighborhood trash cans. You remove big things from the trash, obvious bits of recyclable goodies placed on the curb by the owner of the house for the trash people. You see an old vacuum and some ceiling fans in the pile of garbage. 98% of people won't care if you remove it from the curb because it's basically the same as the city doing it (as in it just gets gone, which what the person wants), but technically this is theft. He said he served on a jury panel a few years back where one neighbor sued another for "stealing" the trash he placed on the curb. My friend said the suit was born from a dislike of the neighbors, of course. So how did it end? Well, I don't know. My friend said he went through voir dire, but wasn't selected for the jury. Shame.
    Last edited by Racer997; 11-26-2012 at 03:28 PM.

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    The first one, look at it this way, if your walking down the road and you pick up a piece of trash and you don't want it so you throw it back on the ground, a cop sees you throw it on the ground but didn't see you pick it up he has a right to write you a ticket for littering or he might just give you a warning. The second one, if you take something that is not yours it is stealing. Not my .02 it's the law.

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    volvoscrapper's Avatar
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    Neither one bothers me all that much, but I would definitely ask the recycling people.

    A lot of towns have "swap areas" or "swap rooms" where you can take your good stuff, and pick up other people's rejects. Particularly in New England. Sort of a yankee thrift thing I guess.

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    anything that is not on the list of items they take that is there would be illegally dumped, id have no problem taking it with permission if there is someone there to ask, if its an unmanned drop off site i would just go ahead and take it

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    Our transfer station (read "dump") has a no scavenging rule. Which they never seem to enforce.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Racer997 View Post
    You dumpster dive in the neighborhood trash cans. You remove big things from the trash, obvious bits of recyclable goodies placed on the curb by the owner of the house for the trash people. You see an old vacuum and some ceiling fans in the pile of garbage. 98% of people won't care if you remove it from the curb because it's basically the same as the city doing it (as in it just gets gone, which what the person wants), but technically this is theft. He said he served on a jury panel a few years back where one neighbor sued another for "stealing" the trash he placed on the curb.
    You say "dumpster dive", but talk about curbs... which do you mean?

    Dumpsters are most definitely owned by somebody, which means you must have permission to legally remove things from it. I find that in most cases, if you are smart, there are dumpsters that can be dived with little chance of repercussion, but it's still illegal if we're being honest about it.

    "Curb shopping", i.e. taking stuff that was placed on the curb (or in an alley, or wherever the proper place for that particular area, generally on easement space...) for the purpose of disposal, makes it public domain in most cases in the U.S. Of course you should check local laws for variance on this. The only time "curb shopping" becomes a problem is when you're taking stuff from marked recycle bins/garbage cans. For example, my city contracts its garbage/recycling out to a privately-owned dump. In some areas, they provide cans/bins... it is illegal to pick from those containers, as they are owned privately... similar to a dumpster. Stuff just setting out or in non-marked cans/bags are fair game, and I've taken stuff right in front of cops without incident.


    Edited to add: I meant this to specifically address your comment, "but technically this is theft" because that is incorrect in many cases.
    Last edited by Wolfwerx; 11-28-2012 at 03:52 PM.

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    I agree with happyscrapper. It doesn't matter how one interprets the law, what matters is how the man interprets it when he sees you in action.

    In the case of the drop off center, I would ask before taking anything. I wouldn't want it to cost me more than what its worth.

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    At my landfill -also the recycling drop off location - Their rule is if it hits their bins it's theirs - even the garbage bins. They say it is for safety reasons. Most people will put interesting or good items on the lot and not in a bin then it is there for the taking. To be quite honest with you if it is in the garbage bins and I can get away with it I will pull something out real quick. Just as a side note the other day when I was there I saw a guy unload at least 30 car batteries to be recycled. I almost cried. I stopped the guy and asked if he had any more he wanted to get rid of he said no that was all of them. I told him he could have sold them and he says "yeah I saw the signs saying they would buy them" He was referring to a scrap yard on the way to the dump about a mile away. Sometime I wonder about people close to 300$ down the tubes!!!

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    To be quite honest with you if it is in the garbage bins and I can get away with it I will pull something out real quick.
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    1. i always take a trash bag for trash while picking up cans. something my kid started on earth day or something i think.

    2. the guy that runs the convenience center in my town recycles that stuff in the corner for extra money.

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