Dumpster Diving Laws
by design this page is still under construction, and shall remain so indefinately. this is the nature of the world we live in, with it's abstract borders, segregation and bureaucracy, there is no way anyone could provide a comprehensive list of your rights as a dumspter diver. however, we still endeavor to produce the best legal guide we can, and for this we need your help. if you know the various laws that affect dumpster diving in your country/state then please email us so we can include them here (ideally in both the regional language and english if possible). it would be nice to not rely so heavily on the (rather poor) wiki section for this page.
also i'd like to point out that none of us, nor anyone we know, has ever had any trouble whilst dumpster diving, nevermind legal trouble. infact, the only case we've heard of was two americans being erroneously sentenced for six months, but they were let out after ten days because the whole case was bullshit. most likely, if you run into a cop in a dark alley, that you've taken food from someone's dumpster will be the least of your worries.
the laws you need to worry about are those relating to trespassing, as the only laws that specifically refer to dumpster diving are concerned primarily with identity theft. i will personally come and bust you out of jail if you are sentenced for stealing out-of-date food (but not if you also jumped a fence, cut a padlock and set fire to a trash compactor), and that's almost a promise.
USA (from wikipedia)
Because dumpsters are usually located on private premises, dumpster diving is illegal in some parts of the United States, though the law is enforced with varying degrees of rigor. The California v. Greenwood case in the U.S. Supreme Court held that there is no common law expectation of privacy for discarded materials. Dumpster diving per se is probably legal when not specifically prohibited by state or local law.
Canada (from wikipedia)
In Canada, The Trespass to Property Act - legislation dating back to the British North America Act of 1867 - grants property owners and security guards the power to ban anyone from the premises, for any reason, forever. The catch is, they have to actually ask you to leave - serve you with a notice prohibiting entry - then you have to return for it to be trespassing. And ever since a cop dug through a curbside trash can, looking for a ditched weapon used in a holdup, and the judge ruled that he needed no search warrant to do so, Canada's garbage has become fair game.
UK (from various wikipedia pages)
In the United Kingdom, while dumpster diving in England and Wales may qualify as theft within the Theft Act 1968 or as common-law theft in Scotland, there is very little enforcement in practice (see below). In England and Wales, despite the prevalence of notices asserting that "trespassers will be prosecuted", unless the trespass is aggravated in some way, it will only be a civil wrong (unless you're on Ministry of Defence property, in which case it's a criminal offence, but only a complete fool would try dumpster diving the MoD)
However, police work on some sort of (ridiculous) points system, where arresting and prosecuting a dumpster diver for theft is worth just as much as apprehending a murderer, as one woman found out when salvaging a set of plastic garden chairs (police were called after she refused to return the chairs to the dumpster, then after refusing a caution she was arrested, photographed, DNA'd and fingerprinted, bailed four times, and asked to take part in an identity parade, with a potential charge under section 1 of the above mentioned Theft Act).
Italy (from wikipedia)
In Italy, a law issued in 2000 declared dumpster diving to be legal. (er, citation somewhat needed)
Sweden (from wikipedia)
In Sweden, the contents of a dumpster is the property of the owner of the dumpster so taking items from a dumpster is technically theft.
but remember, when it comes down to it the only rule that matters is the golden rule. would you mind someone going through your trash and making good with whatever useful stuff they found? of course you wouldn't, and even better it would negate your guilt for throwing away something useful to begin with (maybe that's why people get so uppity).
that isn't to say we condone breaking inexplicably stupid laws.. aw shucks, of course it does.