One Man’s Trash

One Man’s Trash

Last week, Rob wondered what your opinions are about taking lumber left by others at the curb. Lots of you offer advice! – Editor

“Don’t have enough info really say but if they put the wood out with the trash I’d go for it. Years ago I got most of my wood from recycling other peoples trash. I still scavenge where I can and put it to good use. If it’s on the curb it’s fair game. I’ve even had folks help me load it; they want it gone.” – Chris Jenkins

“TAKE THE WOOD!!! Homeowner would probably be happy it’s gone. Been in your shoes many times, used most – rest went to heat house in winter.” – Hstone

“Courts have ruled that police can search trash without a search warrant because the person threw the material away. I would have taken the wood without guilt or regret.” – Ross Hirst

“Taking wood from a dumpster isn’t stealing, it’s preventing wood from going into a landfill, quite the opposite of stealing. I can’t imagine anyone considering that stealing. My two cents.” – Mark Taylor

“As an avid woodworker I can see Rob’s regret at leaving promising wood that looks like it is going to go to the landfill. As a female, I would be alarmed and think it creepy if I saw someone rummaging/scavenging trash I had left curbside to be picked up. Curiously, I googled the question and a search came up with (for California) that it is a misdemeanor to scavenge someone’s trash. Another response was that scavenging was ok if goods were on public property (I don’t know where that location was). So maybe the safest thing is to check with the local Department of Public Works for a local answer. In this day and age, better to be conservative and not take things without permission from the owner and/or without knowing the local laws and ordinances which may vary from place to place. One way to potentially score wood destined to be burned or disposed of is to check the listings for Free Wood on such venues like Offer Up. I could hardly believe my luck in recently scoring two pickup truckloads plus a van’s worth of WALNUT (downed tree which was being stored cut up in a shed for greater than a year) from a listing of Free Wood (which had been listed as ‘free’ firewood use or other)! Kudos that Rob tried to contact the owner, but then put his conscience in front of his desires!” – Carolina K. Smith

“You should have taken what you wanted. It was out there to be thrown away.” – Bill Killian

“When stuff is ‘kicked to the curb,’ that means the owner wants it gone. I too have stopped and asked for permission to take their trash/my new treasure. I have never been told no. We live in a rural area, and I put stuff in the ditch right next to the road for someone to snag if they can use it. I have only had one thing ever make it until trash pickup day. So, the bottom line here is go for it — they don’t want it.” – Ken Rhuems

“Strictly speaking, taking something that is not yours, that has not clearly been discarded (sounds like there was some question in your mind), without permission, is stealing. Another criterion to go by is, if the action you are contemplating taking is something you would not want friends and family to know, and not to be published in the media, don’t do it. All that being said, I think you still had a couple of options. You could have left a note on the door or in the mailbox explaining you’d like the wood and why (to further world peace, of course) and left your name (first name only; what kind of freaks throw out perfectly good lumber?!?) and phone number. If you knew the schedule for trash pickup in that neighborhood, you could have staked out the place on trash day and then intercepted the lumber before the trash hauler took it away. Finally, if the Bagster had any contact information on it (phone number or website) that might have presented an avenue to acquire the wood. But if you are questioning whether or not to do something, you probably shouldn’t do it.” – Eric M.

“I don’t know about your area, but around here, if it’s placed on the curbside, it is free to whomever wants it. I have also rummaged through items on the curb that happen to catch my eye as useful, but if I think an item is valuable, I definitely ask the homeowner before taking. The answer has always been ‘sure, it’s fine to take it.'” – Tony Newman

“I just saw your question about dumpster diving, and I respect your decision to walk away. In my locale, what goes into the dumpster from a construction site will end up in our local dump as landfill. My wife and I currently have a renovation project ongoing, and as I type this, we have a dumpster in our driveway for the construction debris and waste. Yesterday I rescued some pieces of framing pine 2x4s that I can use to build trucks for my grandkids — a noble use of waste. One simple solution is for you to leave a note for the owners/workers with your cell number and a request to remove some wood for your use, then wait for their response before proceeding.” – Sim Galazka

“Cops are allowed to go through trash brought to the curb, because there is no expectation of privacy. I don’t see why that wouldn’t stretch to lumber on its way to the dump.” – Jeff Kelly

“If it’s at the curb, the homeowners have placed it there for disposal. I doubt they care by whom. Having said that, I would ask first. If I really wanted it, I would have returned a second time to ask.” – Bob Weaver

“All the contractors and homeowners I talked to in salvaging lumber have no problem letting me have whatever I want. As long as everything else stays neatly in the container, no problem.” – Ted Scheiderich<

“Take it! It’s already open for grabs, since it is at the side of the road. There is a whole sub-culture that trolls around at night picking through curbside items. You just want to keep up an image.” – Thomas Ellsworth

“If the location was typical urban residential, then there was probably a sidewalk in front of it. Legally, if it was on the street, the property line usually ends at the outer edge of the property’s grass line. So the street, curb and sidewalk are public and not private property. That means the owner legally put the items off his/her property with the intention that it would magically disappear with the local sanitation utility taking care of the details. Most likely, the previous owner was simply making room for something else. Since it was just sitting there, then it’s fair game. Knocking and asking is, of course, the best approach, and I too would have questioned whether or not to take that lumber. Something about taking the lumber simply feels wrong, so in the end, I would have probably driven off as well.” – Ernie Roumelis

“Asking first is good manners, but that being said, many communities have laws on the books that state that anything on the street curb is considered trash and that the owner has forfeited all rights to the items. Certainly, the Bagster clearly indicates the owner’s intent. By taking it you may be helping lower the cost of the Bagster fee. Last time I looked into a Bagster, it was $35 for the bag plus a local hauling fee. Sometimes it is a flat fee and others it may be calculated by weight. Check the Bagster website for the actual details for your community.” – Gary

“In my opinion, anything in the trash for garbage pickup is free for anyone to take. As long as you don’t make a mess or otherwise impact the garbage truck from taking the remainder, I say it is not only fair game but positive all around if you can recycle what will otherwise go to landfill. I have made any number of things from trash-pile wood as well as pallet wood being disposed. I got this philosophy from my dad. I still have a couple of small tables that he rescued and rehabilitated, a cabinet that used to be a 25″ console TV (back in the days when TVs were furniture), and a fan he rewired.” – David Hall

“If you would have grabbed that lumber from the dumpster, you should have a clear conscience. Whoever pitched it in there likely intended for it to be hauled away to a disposal or incineration site. Better it be in your rack than in a landfill somewhere.” – Gerry R. Jensen

“I’ve never hesitated to salvage lumber set out, cast out, to be taken to the landfill. Thankfully, it happens rarely now that ‘reclaimed’ and ‘recycled’ is in vogue with interior designers, many of whom speak of it as if it were idea in the first place. I know better. I was laughed at by the very same people for pulling alongside and climbing into a dumpster alongside a project to restore, remodel or demolish a late 1700s or 1800s house here in Savannah, Georgia. The number of original growth, longleaf pine timbers that went to the dump makes me sick to think about. Hardware, too. I have quite a collection of embossed hinges, window latches, doorknobs and keyhole escutcheon plates. Even a supply of porcelain from salvaging what remained of knob and tube whenever I worked on a historic, restoration or remodel. Like you, I’ve made a run of small wooden boxes from reclaimed lumber to donate to the cancer wing of the Memorial Health Children’s Hospital. Each time a patient undergoes a treatment, radiology or chemotherapy, they’re are rewarded a pin that than goes into their very own box. Sadly, I’ve also made a run of more elaborate boxes. Those went home filled with moments and memories for the parents of children who never got to go home. My shop is filled with small pieces of reclaimed wood that will one day grace a small wood project. Most likely, a box, such as those you see here. I say don’t hesitate. Dive in. Otherwise, it goes to the dump.” – Chris LaReau

“No it would not be wrong or illegal for you to take that wood. I remember not all that long ago there was a legal case about this very topic. The court ruled that once trash has been placed curbside, it is up for grabs. Not only was it your right but your responsibility to make those toys, save the environment and make the universe a better place. Maybe next time you could leave a note on the homeowner’s door mentioning your intentions for the next load of lumber? And if you could truly make world peace from some scrap lumber and you passed up the opportunity. OH, the humanity…” – Don Lamothe

“If it is at the curb, it is fair game for taking! The party putting it at the curb as garbage did not want it; they do not care what happens to it — landfill or someone taking it for personal use. I have salvaged a sofa (recovered for a daughter who used it for 5+ years), a vanity table (damaged) that I repurposed, a table that I took for my daughter who refinished it and sold for $150. Plus, there are other instances. Furthermore, I have put at the curb ahead of garbage day with the hope that someone will salvage what I don’t want/need, and it has worked! Frankly, you blew it!!” – Karl Reichardt

“I think when someone places items in the garbage, they relinquish control over it. I’m no lawyer, just the son, brother, friend and father of police officers/detectives. And I’ve listened to conversation about dumpster diving to get information. So I would have taken as much as I could. Here in New Jersey, some towns have junk days where you can put just about anything out on the curb. I’ve found some sweet goodies over the years. Best find was a walnut rocking chair with a busted rocker. It was one of my first woodworking trials back in 1978. The rush seat eventually wore out. I stripped the varnish/lacquer and refinished it, then taught myself how to weave the rush seat.” – Pete Klebaur

“According to the movie ‘The Burbs,’ garbage is public domain! I stick by that!” – Terry Steven

“The legal system has ‘decided’ (ruled) that personal trash is not ‘protected’ property. (It can be legally searched for evidence.) To me (who ain’t no lawyer), you would be welcomed to remove any lumber that you found. I have been ‘rescuing’ trash from people’s leavings for over half a century and haven’t been locked up (yet).” – Chuck Britton

“I would imagine that no one in their right mind would be storing their lumber next to the curb. It was there to be thrown away, and if it were me that saw it and thought it to be useful, I would pick it up in a heartbeat and be grateful. There is a saying that ‘If you snooze…you lose,’ and I think that you snoozed.” – Greg Little

“Is it stealing? Nope! The stuff was put by the dumpster, so it’s a free for pickup. Take it and enjoy!” – Dave Sanek

“If it’s on the street right-of-way, save it from the landfill. You are just cleaning up the street right-of-way. I had a guy bring me a box of little walnut scraps that he was going to send to the landfill. I made segmented bowls from them.” – Lowell Taylor

“I think you should’ve taken the wood. I have put wood and old furniture out, and before you know it, it’s gone.” – Anthony Kattelman

“You were right to leave the wood, as painful as it was. That wood could have been promised to someone else. God bless you for being a good person. More people need to be like you. I have been in the same spot and have had to drive away with projects fading away in my head.” – Kenneth Terrell

“Next time take the lumber and have no regrets. If it is in the trash, it is not stealing. Just my opinion.” – Wally Nagel

“In my mind, anything on the curb is fair game. Here in the Dallas area, a common disposal method for ‘stuff’ is to just put it out on the curb. Is it worth anything? The ‘marketplace’ will make that determination.” – Pete Samsury

“Sounds to me like it was out for trash or free pickup. I might feel funny driving away with it, too. At first. People in my neighborhood leave free stuff at the end of their driveways, with a sign or not.” – Wilbur Post

“The dumpster dive is not stealing. The folks placed it on the curb because they no longer wanted the items. Here in California, placing items out on the curb is the cue for ‘please take it!’ You missed out on a golden opportunity.” – Jerry VanGessel

“No it wouldn’t be stealing. As you so rightly put it, the ways it could be used or keeping it out of the landfill are righteous. It was put out as trash, and as the saying goes, ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’ I would only cry foul if you left a mess while pulling the pieces out.” – Richard Stone

“I had the same quandary many years ago when I drove past a new home development where a lot of wood was thrown out. I took some, felt a bit guilty and never did it again. However, being much, much older, not going to talk about wiser, I have two comments that may help. First, you can call the local waste disposal company and ask them. Regulations may vary from one area to another as to when ownership passes from the homeowner to the waste company. Second, here’s common practice in several places I have lived: when trash is put out the night before, there are people who drive by and scavenge for anything that may be useful, and they simply take it. Once it’s on the curb, as a homeowner, I really don’t care if the waste company picks it up or some individual takes it and can use it or repurpose it. Less stuff going to the landfill.” – Barry Meyers

“If it is headed for the dump, I’d consider it ‘free’ until the local constable bangs on the side of the dumpster and asks if you are just visiting or planning to stay for a while. And it becomes NOT free when you slip and plant a knee on a shattered glass bottle. No, I won’t admit that this happened to me, and I won’t lie and say it didn’t.” – RileyG

“I use some pallet lumber in my work. And I always get permission. I guess in your case I might’ve left a card or a note with the phone number and asked. In this day and age of theft and litigation, I try to do the right thing.” – Sandy Bate

“If it was an active jobsite with a roll-off, I would have definitely asked before I took it. A private home in a trash pile at the curb, definitely would have picked it up.” – Anthony Cavallo

“According to the FindLaw website, dumpster diving is legal in all 50 states. But if you jump a fence, walk through a gate or in any way walk onto private property to dumpster dive, then you may be trespassing, which is illegal. I hope this helps answer your challenging conundrum.” – Arosa Colón

“(My) rule of thumb is, if it’s at the curb, it’s for the taking unless it has a price on bag.” – Robert Durst

“It wouldn’t be stealing if you left them a note with your number. Then if they wanted it back, all they need to do is call you.” – Daryl Metheny

“I don’t think you can ‘steal’ trash. The knock on the door would be a courtesy, but I would have loaded up the wood and waved adios.” – L. Bitter

“No, it’s not stealing. It was discarded, and the last owner had given it away. Common practice in Sacramento is to save it from the landfill.” – Lee Deter

“It’s legal when someone puts trash at the curb. It is not theirs anymore. That is why when police are on surveillance and they collect the person’s garbage, it is admissible in court.” – Rosi Wood

“It’s not stealing. I have done the same.” – Jama

“You should rescue that lumber. One person’s trash can be another person’s treasure.” – Richard Vsetecka

“I’m not a lawyer, although I majored in criminal justice in college. If it’s obvious the lumber is part of the trash pile, why not take it. If it’s good enough for law enforcement to take it, why not the rest of us? Although, I’d probably do like you and leave without taking anything.” – David Bennett

“Depending on local ordinances, you should be okay picking up trashed lumber (and anything else) if it is placed where trash is normally collected. If up next to the house, no, even though the lumber is in a dumpster or bag. It should be assumed that if placed at the curb unattended, then, it’s up for grabs. At least that’s my two cents.” – Michael Milner

“Before I moved to the lake, there were people that drove around ahead of the trash truck picking up stuff to use and sell. Many times I would set stuff out I knew the trash company wouldn’t take because it was too big for the dumpy. By the time the trash truck got there, it would all be gone. You were okay. When it’s in the trash, it is free for all.” – Ron Grover

“In this part of the country it is common to place items at the curb for others to recycle. I once came across two full sheets of Formica® and didn’t give it a second thought. I loaded them up but did leave a note on the front door with my name, number and asking for a call if they weren’t meant for trash/free. The guy called me that night and said notonly was I welcomed to them, but he had two more if I wanted them.” – Stuart Johnson

“Absolutely nothing wrong with (taking the lumber). It would have been nicer if the owner was home. But, saving it from the landfill is a good thing. It could be described as virtuous.” – Bob Golden

“If it is in the dumpster, the intent is to get rid of it. So I see nothing wrong with taking some trash and putting it to a better use. I agree to ask the property owner/resident for permission, but if no one is available, load it up.” – Richard Stokken

“Around here people regularly put stuff like that out the day after trash collection with the HOPES that someone will take it. It may be scrap metal (we have guys who regularly ‘acquire’ that to sell), no-longer-needed lawn mowers, large yard toys, and wood like you saw. Around here, your stash would be gone in a day or two!” – Charlie Reavis

“I live in a new subdivision where there is a lot of construction. All the materials that are put in the dumpsters seems like a crime to me. The framers will use a 10-foot 2×4 for a temporary brace and then throw it in the trash. I grab them, check for nails, cut the ends off and use it for studs in my workshop. Same goes for plywood and sheathing materials. Go for it and dive.” – Ed Scutellaro

“Depending on your local laws, anything in the trash is no longer your property. Police pull stuff out of trash bins at the curb, and that’s legal apparently so why not recycle reuse?” – Tom Smith

“Dumpsters are the landfill’s sad cousin. There is no moral, ethical or other reason to stop the repurposing of anything discarded in a dumpster and helping to save Mother Earth. The only dilemma is whether you want to get your hands dirty. Which is why I carry gloves.” – Richard Taubar

“I would leave a note explaining why the pile may have eliminated, as in your case, making toys of lessor means. A fence company once advertised old fence boards free for the taking. I created a lot of barn wood creations. I’m always looking to either repurpose or reuse wood.” – Agg9900

“I feel that once it reached the dumpster, it has been discarded. They would never put anything that they wanted to keep in a dumpster. Also, you are correct that putting the discards to good use will help save the landfill and also make more room in the dumpster, thus saving another trip to the landfill. It never hurts to get the blessings of the site foreman. They have always been on board (pun intended) with it. Over the past few years, there has been a lot of construction in my neighborhood in St. Augustine Beach. I have been blessed to find some nice discards and occasionally some fasteners. I rarely take construction lumber unless I’m looking for firewood.” – Michael A. Grinney

“I don’t know your town’s pick-up rules, but we have a designated heavy trash pick-up monthly. If it’s on the curb that week, redistribution is welcome, expected and a lot of people participate. I have re-homed wood furniture for various charity efforts. Other ‘found’ solid wood is filling my wood rack. Endless turning opportunities if one’s inclined, using walnut, pear, cedar and box elder. I’m looking for some Osage orange to make a mallet, but that’s not likely here in town. Good luck saving our landfills.” – Stephen England

“Once it’s placed for disposal, all bets are off. Police and detectives go ‘dumpster diving’ on a regular basis. I’d have probably taken the wood, making sure that I left no mess.” – Arlan Quandahl

“I would have taken it. In my area it’s legal to take stuff placed at the curb as long as it’s not in a recycling container.” – D. Duvall

“Take the lumber and leave a note that you’ll bring it back if the person so desires.” – Mark J. Hendrickson

“It would only be wrong to run carrying the lumber. Sort of like running with scissors. Otherwise, taking from dumpsters is perfectly legal. In fact, the police can search your roadside trash without a warrant.” – T. Patrick Bradley

“You absolutely should have grabbed that lumber. Think of the poor kids with no toys, overflowing dumps, depleted forests — need I go on? The owners have already given adequate notice that they no longer wanted or valued it, so it is not stealing — it’s recycling! Do your part next time and take the lumber.” – Charley Robinson

“With your courtesy door knock unanswered, you did the right thing by leaving. My worst fear would be the homeowner coming home while I was loading up stuff I perceived as trash but that I had no permission to take. Well done.” – Mike Bird

“Obviously, this donor did not know about you so that he/she could donate these wonderful future project sources to you. As long as your city does not have some regulation about this, you should be able to give them a new home. Maybe stop back there again in the early evening to thank them, talk with them a bit and maybe make a something for them.” – Paul Tanenbaum

“No, it’s not stealing in my mind. I think you’d be doing everyone a favor. Technically, someone might object, but they’d be feeling mighty silly about do so and showing their stupid red tape-ness. Hopefully yes, world peace would follow.” – Rick Corbitt

“Although I love your morals in leaving rather than taking, I would have done a lot of soul-searching while sitting there in my truck before leaving. I’d have done what you did, but I’d definitely returned when time permitted. Persistence sometimes pays off!” – Dennis Young

“Short answer: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. I would have taken it.” – Pete Morris

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