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Is Dumpster Diving (for Coupons) Legal? Updated with an Answer from Knoxville

I received this question from a reader this morning.

Coupon Katie,

I have a question for you. Is it against the law here in Knoxville or all of Tennessee to dumpster dive? I was thinking of checking out some newspaper recycling dumpsters but, didn’t know if I would be breaking the law or not. I know it is illegal in some areas but, I can’t seem to find anything about Knoxville or Tennessee.

Truthfully I don’t know if there is a law or ordinance regarding dumpster diving in Knoxville or Tennessee. I looked around a little but haven’t found much information. In a few Knox county documents is does say to “ Keep dumpsters secure to prevent illegal dumping and scavenging.” I sent off a few emails and  I’ll update you when I get an answer.

My guess is it will probably depend on where the dumpster is located. If it is on private property (ie. property owned by a store) then it could be considered trespassing. There also might be a sanitation concern.

Anyone else have any ideas?

I sent an email to the Knoxville Solid Waste Project Manager. Here is his answer:

Katie,
I am sorry, there are a number of reasons we do not allow individuals to go into the containers at the recycling centers.  First on my list is safety.  We do not want to see someone getting hurt reaching into the containers.  You could fall in and hurt or scrape yourself and or scrape yourself on the siding pulling something out.
Next is identity theft. Just because the sign says newspaper does not mean that folks will not throw in their personal materials in the news paper container instead of the mixed paper container. Users of the centers sometimes think that when they see others reaching in and pulling out materials from the containers that they are possibly looking for identification items. We do get calls like this. Thinking the use of materials they just placed in for recycling could be used for identity theft they could possibly confront you in a unfriendly manner and again your safety would be involved.
Third there is a ordinance prohibiting such things. All materials once placed into the containers becomes the property of the City. # O-451-00, § 1 Chapter 13, Section 13.18. No unauthorized person shall uncover, rifle, pilfer, dig into, turn over or in any other manner disturb or use any container or other solid waste or recycling receptacle including but not limited to cans, bins, dumpsters or similar type storage belonging to the city or any person, business or contractor. This section shall not be construed to prohibit the use of public antilitter cans for the deposit of refuse commonly recognized as litter.
If we let one or two persons go through the containers we would have to let all citizens go through them and we would loose control very quickly.  Some would want the material to take for recycling themselves such as the aluminum cans. Others like yourself have very commendable causes.  Some may take as much material as they can and discard unwanted items in the trash later while those residents bringing the materials to the centers do so thinking all will be recycled. Again it is a control item.

I would encourage you to check for any ordinances in you city/county.

Comments

  1. Charlottedupier says:

    You can purchase coupons from sites such as coupon clippers & many others for a few cents.
    You can also purchase several Sunday papers with coupons.  I would not look in dumpsters
    for many reasons.

  2. This is a question I have also often wondered about! I look forward to any answers…

  3. Bluefrog says:

    I believe the answer is very clear. It is unlawful to remove anything from recycling drop-off centers. All the reasons above are good ones and should be respected. What will happen to you if you choose to break the law? Maybe nothing, but is that a risk worth taking?

    I balked at this when I first discussed it with the Solid Waste Manager. “But I can do so much good with them!” I pleaded. He just shook his head and said, “No exceptions.”

    Wouldn’t it be great if they had a separate area you could drop off unwanted inserts for others to use? Hmmmmm, maybe I’ll call him.Have I grabbed inserts in the past? Yes. Will I now? No. I suggest you find other ways to broaden your coupon binder. Thanks for posting this, Katie.

  4. Savvy_southern_belle says:

    Personally I find it ridiculous that the police can go through my trash but I can’t go dumpster diving for coupons. If we can’t do it, the police should have to obtain a warrant to search trash. And we’ve been told for YEARS now not to throw things in the garbage that have our id on them.

  5. Momofpiper says:

    There are many newspaper recycling “dumpsters” not located in county recycling centers.  They are not owned by the city, & therefore, the couponss would not be “city property”.  These dumpsters are located on private property & are owned by recycling companies.  The number for the recycling company is located on the side of the dumpster.  I would call them and ask if you could have permission to dumpster dive or come to their recycling center to retrieve coupons. 

  6. Momofpiper says:

    There are many newspaper recycling “dumpsters” not located in county recycling centers.  They are not owned by the city, & therefore, the couponss would not be “city property”.  These dumpsters are located on private property & are owned by recycling companies.  The number for the recycling company is located on the side of the dumpster.  I would call them and ask if you could have permission to dumpster dive or come to their recycling center to retrieve coupons. 

  7. Jameslong4110 says:

    my question is what about a private owned recycler,not city owned

  8. Thank you so much for looking into this. Although I live in the county, I have no doubt that the reasons presented by the Project Manager are applicable to any recycling container. I do see a woman in my area regularly doing this (I don’t drive by often, but it seems when I do, she is there). Knoxville seems to lag behind other cities a bit in fads, so I’m thinking the coupon boom has not really hit this area yet and when it does, there will be a widespread crackdown. I don’t care to get into trouble of any kind for something as insignificant as extra coupons.

  9. OMG. The ordinance makes dumpster diving sound like a drug.

  10. Jennifer says:

    There is a laundry mat in Knoxville on Broadway at the end of the Big Lots shopping center. The owner encourages people to bring in coupons, newspapers, etc. for others. She usually has a huge amount in a box on the other side of the counter right inside the door and sometimes in stacks on the counter. Please help Kathy keep things neat if you do pay a visit.

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