Should Garbage Picking Be Illegal?

Don DalFonso, a Buffalo resident who collects scrap metal, was recently cited by the Town of Tonawanda for “interference with waste material set out for collection.” The City of Buffalo and several surrounding suburbs have ordinances that not only prohibit unauthorized removal of trash, but go as far as to establish the municipality as owner, once trash and recyclables are placed in the public right of way.

As reported in the Buffalo News according to Lt. Nicholas Bado of the Tonawanda Police Department, “It’s a quality-of-life issue,” citing disturbances caused by the collectors’ vehicles and the mess they sometimes leave behind after picking through the piles.Further, “We have been able to link people allegedly out garbage picking to other crimes,” he said. “It’s something we do keep an eye on.” Recycling is also a source of revenue for many municipalities.

In Tonawanda Penalties begin with a written warning. For a second violation within 12 months, there’s a fine of $50, that increases with each subsequent violation within the same 12-month period.

DalFonso’s position is “You talk to the people who put [recyclables] out – they don’t care who gets it,”. “Those ordinances are a joke.”

Personally, garbage pickers have never bothered me. If they can reuse or sell an item that has been thrown out more power to them. DalFonso and other garbage pickers are simply trying to survive in tough economic times by looking to make a few bucks.

Should garbage picking be illegal? What do you think?

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Sid Burgess

[left this comment on your blog as well but thought I would also post here in case that would help spur conversation]

I disagree. I don’t want people going through my trash. If I think there is something of value that I want others to have, I’ll post it on Craigslist for people to pick up. Just because something is in my front lawn, doesn’t necessarily mean it is free. And if I contract with someone to pick up that item (municipality or not), then that is also in my right.

Garbage picking should be illegal because it is trespassing, plain and simple.

Peter Sperry

I see no problem with garbage pickers. If they make a mess, cite them for littering; but local governments should focus on more important priorities than going after entrepreneurial individuals trying to make a living.

Henry Brown

Have lived in places which had an active recycling program paid for the money collected from the recycling firms. In those cases would offer that there could be a case made for making garbage picking illegal…

Have lived elsewhere where the governments cannot be bothered with recycling. In those cases(and I suspect that it is probably true) there is no need for making garbage picking illegal…

Would offer that in BOTH cases a case could be made for making it illegal to leave a mess behind…

David Dejewski

Maybe messy garbage picking should be fined. If it weren’t for garbage picking, I wouldn’t have been able to build my childhood go-cart, my beater bicycle, and a number of other cool things. I also wouldn’t have had that old leaf sweeper I put to use as a kid to clean up around my neighborhood and make some money.

Hannah Ornell

I don’t think trash-picking should be illegal. I often see people looking for scraps of food in trashes around the city or dumpsters near restaurants and it would be a crime for the government to fine these people for doing what they can to survive. Beyond the social aspect, there are environmental incentives for allowing trash picking. Our landfills are piling up indefinitely, and our recycling system, while it is better than throwing things away, does use up energy. The most environmentally-conscious solution for our waste is it to reuse. It’s only hurting ourselves if we choose to discourage reusing.

Sterling Whitehead

Let people pick trash out. Some people make a living doing this and reselling the items after refurbishing them. It may be creepy, but it’s economic activity and we all know we need as much of that as we can get.

Sid Burgess

Interesting perspectives! I may have to dig deeper in my thought process. Currently, I don’t see how anyone has the right to infringe on a contract (refuse collection and disposal). I see the benefits of allowing it, but I can’t help but wonder if it is a slippery slope. Do I have the right to tell someone they can’t pick if I stand in my front yard? I’m actually not sure. Can anyone just walk up and take what they want out of my trash cans? With identify theft being the serious threat it is, I can’t help but question the motive of some people I’d catch digging through my trash.