Martin is a dumpster diver; occasionally, he will show his friends in Florida what he finds. He pulls out articles that most of us go to retail stores to buy! Most of his friends wonder: is his dumpster diving legal in Florida?

Dumpster diving is legal in Florida. It isn’t illegal in any state. However, other acts that may be associated with dumpster diving are unlawful. Some are petty offenses, and some carry severe punishments.

How can you be sure your dumpster diving doesn’t involve illegal activity? Consider the following to decide if you could get into trouble while dumpster diving.

Illegal Activities Associated with Dumpster Diving

Dumpster diving can get a person into trouble. 

Think about what you are doing to dumpster dive. Are you:

  • Trespassing
  • Committing theft
  • Creating a public nuisance
  • Violating litter or hazardous waste restrictions

Let’s get into each of these crimes below to determine whether you’re breaking any laws during your dumpster diving sessions.


Trespassing involves some specific behaviors.

Some include:

  1. Ignoring posted signs. If there is a sign that tells you to stay out or not to trespass, ignoring it is illegal.
  2. Being on private property. Even if there isn’t signage, you don’t belong on personal property or the property of a business.
  3. Entering an enclosure with a closed gate around the dumpster or removing a lock on the dumpster. These are subtle commands to stay out. 

If you choose to do any of these things, you could be arrested for trespassing, theft, or creating a public nuisance. 

Whether it is one or the other will depend on local ordinances, the complainant, or the arresting officer.


Most people would suppose trash is trash, right? It’s in a dumpster because someone doesn’t want it. That isn’t necessarily true, and I’ll tell you why.

Trash usually belongs to the people who control the property. It may be trash, but it is trash that belongs to them. If you take it, it is stealing.

In another case, a notice may be posted on the dumpster indicating it is the property of a trash removal service. That means both the dumpster and the trash in the dumpster are theirs.

They may earn an income through trash reclamation. If so, you steal some of their income when you dumpster dive.

Creating a Public Nuisance

For those who dumpster dive at 2:00 a.m., this will not likely be a common problem. 

Consider this, however. It is 10:00 a.m., business is picking up, and all the arriving customers see somebody digging in the dumpster.

The business owner doesn’t care about trespassing and theft of their trash. They rightly find your presence and behavior to be a nuisance and want that nuisance removed.

Now, let’s see the next crimes you may be committing when dumpster diving.

Violating Litter Laws

Dumpster divers portrayed as a tornado going through the trash is an exaggeration, but it exposes the truth. 

Careless scavengers create a mess and litter in the area. It is rude, at best, and perhaps illegal, as well.

Violation Hazardous Waste Laws

All dumpsters are not equal. Any particular dumpster may contain the following:

  • Residential trash
  • Commercial trash
  • Industrial trash
  • Hazardous waste
  • Biohazard medical waste

If disposal laws govern the substance in a dumpster, the waste producer is liable for any damage it causes if you distribute the controlled substance. 

Beyond that, you may be criminally liable for any damage caused by contamination. Criminal negligence, negligible homicide, and manslaughter are just three possible charges.

Can Dumpster Dive and Without Committing Any Crimes?

It isn’t necessary to commit a crime to scrap, scavenge, or dumpster dive. If trash sets out at the curb or edge of the road, it is in the public domain. First come, first served!

Common sense is the best guide to guard against illegal activity. There is an excellent rule of thumb to use. If it isn’t yours, leave your hands off until you ask if it is okay to take or use it.

Let the business know if you are gathering items for a church or charity to sell. Some scrappers work for organizations that set up domestic violence victims with belongings in safe places.

Let people know! Go to the business, walk in, and ask if you can go through their trash. They may say:

  • Yes
  • No
  • Okay, but don’t make a mess
  • Come back after hours when customers are gone

Even if your purposes involve personal needs, you are more likely to get permission and may even get help from the business owner when they know you respect them and understand your reasons.


Reasons for dumpster diving can be pure, unselfish, and even heartbreaking. Still, reality argues that the letter of the law takes precedence over matters of the heart.

Always protect yourself by knowing if any behavior associated with dumpster diving is illegal. Then, use common sense to be safe rather than sorry.