Image credit Sandy Yin
I’m hearing more couponers and bloggers suggest dumpster diving as a smart way to get coupons for free. What disturbs me is how casual this suggestion is starting to come off – or how shows like Extreme Couponing have even tried to make this practice normalized, or even savvy.
Yes, I’ll admit it. I approached this post with my own hangups about the idea of rifling through – essentially garbage – to find coupons. But for the sake of objectivity, I asked my pal Sarah to help me do some digging on this topic (all puns intended) to arm you with some helpful information, and not just a rant-y post. My goal today is to take a complicated topic in couponing and approach it from a number of angles.
What I wanted to learn was: is dumpster diving OK to do? Are there any laws that prohibit it? And if there aren’t any laws, what other considerations should couponers have before they climb into a dumpster bin?
Let’s start at the beginning: legality
I should first mention that I’m in the State of Washington, so most of what I have to share today will pertain to information I was able to uncover for my state. I should also probably give you some sort of general blanket disclosure here that I am not an attorney and my degree is in English/Creative Writing (not law). So basically, don’t hold me liable.
Disclosures aside, let me share that the Supreme Court has stated that trash is public domain. What this means is that dumpster divers cannot be charged with theft.
However, here’s where things get interesting. States and cities have some say in imposing their own rules on this topic. For instance, if you live in Missouri City, MO or Layton, OH, dumpster diving is a crime. And don’t forget, that recycling materials…go in receptacles. Which are generally located on private property. Here is an interesting response found on a legal forum:
Generally speaking dumpsters are on private property and you have the same rights to protect your property interests as you would with someone trespassing/ damaging any other portion of your property. If the dumpster is on property owned by the overall store/ complex owner they have a right to protect their property.
In her research, Sarah ended up contacting the City of Tacoma’s Solid Waste Department to get what their take was on all of this. Apparently, they don’t want you doing this. At all. Not only would they consider it trespassing if you’re there after hours, it poses a liability to the City if someone winds up injured.
Bottom line, while rummaging through trash may not be illegal per se, you could be up against a property owner who wishes to enforce no trespassing. (I was able to find an instance where two Colorado dumpster divers were jailed for trespassing back in 2006.) While most would be unlikely to report, it is a risk you run when you do a belly flop into a recycling bin.
You might not be alone in that dumpster
And I’m not talking about rats, either. Did you know that identity thieves often target recycling bins to obtain personally identifying information?
If a private property owner catches you pawing around papers in their recycling bin, they may very well suppose you are up to no good. In this YouTube video, Mr. Frugal (AKA Nathan from WeUseCoupons.com) recommends diving when no one is around for this very reason. I don’t know about you, but I would prefer not to have to explain myself to an older gentleman who’s threatening to beat me up with his cane. I also would prefer to not to bump heads with criminals like identity thieves.
Have you considered what the manufacturers might have to say about all this? Respected coupon guru Jill Cataldo recently shared her thoughts:
With dumpster diving being glorified on TLC’s Extreme Couponing as an acceptable method to get more coupons, look for the coupon distributors like Valassis, SmartSource, P&G and others to further clamp down on what happens to the coupon inserts from unsold newspapers. Many newspapers now have contracts in place that the extra inserts must be “destroyed,” not merely recycled.
While it can be easy to suppose no one cares about what happens to the papers after Sunday, the truth is – the manufacturers do care.
So do the newspapers.
Heather at Queen Bee Coupons wrote a most insightful post recently on the ethics involved of trying obtain free inserts – whether through your mail carrier, “connections,” or dumpster diving. Here’s what she had to say:
Maybe some of you have found a nice “connection” who is hooking you up with coupons for FREE. But it puts the paper at risk to be dropped from the coupon insert network. For example, your Cousin Vinny has a hook-up and he’s getting you 50 FREE Smart Source inserts from your local Daily News each week, you might think it’s no big deal – but if Smart Source found out they’d likely stop putting their inserts in the Daily News, because it’s a violation of their contract with the paper.
With more and more couponers trying to obtain papers by dumpster diving and other practices, we stand a fair chance of seeing limits and restrictions imposed. The more I learn about stuff like this, the more I feel it my job to share it with you. Because if there is something I can do here to make a positive difference for couponers, manufacturers, and stores alike I want to do it!
My Final Thoughts
After lots of research, I’ve come to realize that dumpster diving is a very complex issue. And, quite frankly, it’s one that not all coupon bloggers will see eye to eye on (do a quick search on “how to dumpster dive” and you’ll find no shortage of posts).
Whether or not your state/city/local recycling center/fill in the blank here would permit it, I feel there is case to argue this is not what the manufacturers or newspapers want us to be doing. Given there is a chance it could hurt couponing for everyone, I have to conclude I am not in support of dumpster diving.
Now that I’ve said my bit – I want to hear from you. What do you think of dumpster diving for coupons? Have you done it before? Are there considerations I’ve missed in my post today? Do you agree with my stance, or do you think I’m off my rocker for not diving for Red Plums?
I’m up for a lively discussion. All I ask is that you keep it clean, and respectful. Other that, you are welcome to speak your mind!