People are selling my rubbish.
June 21, 2006 5:03 PM   Subscribe

Recently I took a large quantity of household junk to my local council run landfill/refuse site. 3 weeks later these items, which I presumed would be destroyed and buried, are appearing at local auctions.

I fully intend to complain, but is there a legal case here, and what might it rely on? The public refuse site is closely controlled - vehicles are checked in one at a time at the gate, it is not just a free for all where people can grab discarded stuff and take it home if they fancy it. The items were thrown into massive, deep metal containers as garbage. This leads me to believe that the staff are sifting through people's refuse for anything of value which they then submit to local auctions to make money on the side.

There can be absolutely no ambiguity as to whether this item belonged to me - it was personalised by me and included my name amongst other things, and I saw it myself in the auction room (estimate £20-30!) I now wonder what else I can expect to see coming up for sale. There doesn't seem to be any terms and conditions implied when I drop my rubbish, but surely I should expect it to be destroyed? I'm in the UK.
posted by fire&wings to Law & Government (44 answers total)
 
IANAL, but once you throw it away in a public landfill, it's not yours anymore. So the people selling "your" stuff are really stealing from the public, not you specifically. This is probably illegal and the landfill operator is negligent, which means the landfill operator would be liable should any of "your" stuff contain information that could conceiveably be used to harm you (e.g. a credit card slip).
posted by frogan at 5:07 PM on June 21, 2006


What I mean is, this is not a theft *from you,* but from the landfill operator. You have no ownership rights to the goods, although you could make a case of negligence against the landfill operator.
posted by frogan at 5:09 PM on June 21, 2006


Why do you care? All you wanted was to get rid of it, and you did. What difference does it make what becomes of it after that?

You say that there's no question that it belongs to you. IANAL but I don't thinK I agree. On the contrary, once you left it at the dump, there's no question that you had given up your property rights entirely.

Consider it this way: if, after you left something at the dump, it fell and hurt someone else, would you expect to defend yourself in a lawsuit as the owner of the object? Of course not -- but ownership is all or nothing. The only way you can relieve yourself of tort liability is by terminating all property rights entirely.

I don't think they've done anything wrong.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:10 PM on June 21, 2006


I'm also not clear on where the problem is.
posted by odinsdream at 5:12 PM on June 21, 2006


Just to play devil's advocate, it might not be a bad thing that these discarded items have been given new life and are now being recycled and reused by people who can use them.

However, to answer your question, once an item is placed in the trash (trash can, dumpster, curb), you legally relinquish ownership, so I agree with frogan that there is not much you can do.

You may want to investigate (with the help of an attorney) if there is any case of negligence on the part of the landfill operator or municipality.

One other thing to do is to contact an investigative reporter from your local television station. I'm sure that public reaction could maybe change the landfill's practices if enough people voice outrage.
posted by galimatias at 5:15 PM on June 21, 2006


This wikipedia article on dumpster diving claims it is legal in most of America, however it references a law in the UK (Theft Act 1968) which it suggests made it illegal in the UK.

In and of itself, stealing garbage is legal. On May 16, 1988 the U. S. Supreme Court confirmed that there is no expectation of privacy, or ownership, once an item is left for garbage pickup.
posted by sophist at 5:17 PM on June 21, 2006


F&W --

Dude, what in the world are you complaining about???

You threw them out!!! If you don't want scavagers to profit from your trash, then donate them to charity (if they would even want your cast-offs). Otherwise, you should find something more important to worry about. Geesh. Let it go!
posted by bim at 5:19 PM on June 21, 2006


Steven C. Den Beste:

I said it belonged to me, not belongs to me. I exercise no control over what happens to it, but if something is dropped at a facility that is financed by me to destroy and discard my household items, surely they should be destroyed and not put up for sale? There is no publicly advertised scheme to resell disposed items for charity of otherwise. Council staff are raking through litter and selling belongings that the public have entrusted the council to destroy and bury.
posted by fire&wings at 5:20 PM on June 21, 2006


Weird. I asked if the local recycling & dumping site in Oxford would allow me to take some bikes to give to teenagers to fix up (I'd seen the council van on the road, and followed it into the site). The driver said yes and I got as far as the gate with 3 in the back of the car.

Then the supervisor saw me, said 'no way' (apparently due to recent illegal sales by staff) - so they took them away for dumping in a landfill!
posted by dash_slot- at 5:34 PM on June 21, 2006


Did they ever tell you that your items would be "destroyed and buried", or merely "disposed of"? Are there any informational brochures, websites, ordinances, or anything of the sort that would lead one to believe that all your trash would be crunched into little cubes and sealed beneath the earth?

My guess is that it would require more of your "financing" — a tax hike, to be blunt — if you (and the public at large) wanted your trash to be destroyed.
posted by Johnny Assay at 5:35 PM on June 21, 2006


There doesn't seem to be any terms and conditions implied when I drop my rubbish, but surely I should expect it to be destroyed?

No, you shouldn't. You should assume that they have taken possession of the item from you. If they wish to destroy it, sell it, or let anyone take it from you, then that is there prerogative. Unless you had an explicit agreement that the item would be completely destroyed (and there are places that do this, usually dealing in documents), you have nothing to complain about.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:35 PM on June 21, 2006


I said it belonged to me, not belongs to me. I exercise no control over what happens to it, but if something is dropped at a facility that is financed by me to destroy and discard my household items, surely they should be destroyed and not put up for sale?

Not only do I not understand why anyone would think that, I don't see why you care. You're not paying to have it destroyed, you're paying to have it disposed of. Duh. And now it's disposed of, end of story.
posted by delmoi at 5:45 PM on June 21, 2006


No, I'm paying to have it buried, in what is called a "landfill." I took it to the site, threw it into a massive hole, and trusted that nobody would clamber down there and retreive it. All my papers are shredded - should I follow my binman home and make sure he isn't trying to put the shreds together? Should I explore every eventuality in every facet of my relationship with my local council? No. I should not expect to have my rubbish picked out of a landfill and sold illicitly.
posted by fire&wings at 6:04 PM on June 21, 2006


I think you're not going to get a lot of sympathy or understanding from us yanks because here in the states taking things to the dump means that anything useful will be recycled. Reduce, reuse, recycle is the mantra--to decrease landfill is practically a religion. The idea of 'untrusting to the council that things would be destroyed' is, well, totally foreign.
posted by tula at 6:22 PM on June 21, 2006


Here in NZ, too, there is a place in the dump for leaving things that could even concievably be useful. The guys in the dumping pit are very eager to point out anything that they think should be put there, instead of in the pile of stuff for the landfill.

It could well be that it is the council or whoever runs the landfill, who is taking 'good stuff' to the auction. It seems an excellent way of reducing waste.

(I take all my good stuff to the thrift store anyway)
posted by slightlybewildered at 6:27 PM on June 21, 2006


dude, what YOU expect is not a contract

PS you are an idiot if you throw away financial documents without shredding them
posted by unSane at 6:38 PM on June 21, 2006


dang, what I meant was, the binman is perfectly within his rights to take home your shreds and try to put them together.
posted by unSane at 6:39 PM on June 21, 2006


Here in NZ, too, there is a place in the dump for leaving things that could even concievably be useful.

The dumps in my part of California are operated by the county government and they sell salvage rights to the high bidder as a means to help defray the operating costs. There are pickers who pay for the right to go through the trash and save whatever they think they can resell and as part of their contract, they also remove any recyclables or harmful substances they come across before it is compacted and buried. It's a win/win as far as I'm concerned.
posted by buggzzee23 at 6:59 PM on June 21, 2006 [1 favorite]


I think I need to start shredding more things.
posted by trevyn at 7:14 PM on June 21, 2006


This is in Oregon, USA, but I know a guy who worked at the local dump for a while and he was always bringing things home -- mostly industrial chemicals that people were trying to get rid of but that he could use for various projects. It seems like fairly standard practice.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:38 PM on June 21, 2006


Why are you presuming that your municipality would go to any lengths to "destroy" your junk? Have you been led to believe this?

Garbage is garbage, and functional garbage is another's treasure. Personally I'd be pissed if a government-run landfill took the time and expense to do anything with my garbage other than watch it rot.
posted by raider at 7:53 PM on June 21, 2006


With the hard rubbish collection which we have every few months here in Melbourne, Australia, you will see people driving around collecting good things off the front curb.

I've actually picked up a couple of things myself.

While this stuff is put out on the lawn with the anticipation that the council will take it away for disposal, it is generally considered unsurprising when, say, the old computer you put out vanishes long before the collection.

While it is common for people to wander around collecting stuff from other people's piles, it is illegal to do so. The council pays a contractor, who collects the rubbish, but keeps anything with resale value. Old fridges, TVs, bikes, furniture etc.

I honestly don't understand why this rubs you the wrong way. If the goods were too good to throw out, you wouldn't have. If you had the time or inclination to sell them, you would have. If someone else, be it the tip operators or an enthusiastic dumpster diver has the time and effort to retrieve, clean up and resell something, then good for them.

What's wrong with something you don't want getting a second life?
posted by tomble at 7:54 PM on June 21, 2006


There are pickers who pay for the right to go through the trash and save whatever they think they can resell and as part of their contract, they also remove any recyclables or harmful substances they come across before it is compacted and buried. It's a win/win as far as I'm concerned.



Excellent concept, poor vocation.
posted by raider at 8:03 PM on June 21, 2006


Here in the U.S., it's also common to see folks checking out items like discarded sofas, tables, etc. In fact, folks expect that someone might like a discarded item and scoop it up. No big deal. Somebody else might as well get some use out of it -- be it a poor student or whatever.

BTW, that's how my family got a set of encyclopedia's when we kids. Somebody set them out for pickup. Otherwise, we couldn't have afforded a set. What's wrong with that?
posted by bim at 8:26 PM on June 21, 2006


agree with the majority here. Once you've taken it to the landfill, you've given up any ownership rights. Why would you care if someone was stealing your garbage? Well, maybe the one instance where you could worry is if you threw away your homemade porn.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:37 PM on June 21, 2006


Why would you care if someone was stealing your garbage?

Right, you've got nothing to hide, do you, Citizen?

(maybe, for example, he would've taken his name off of things if he knew they were going to get auctioned off later.)
posted by mendel at 8:53 PM on June 21, 2006


The dump north of Cambridge in the UK had a section to one side with all the "reusable" stuff for sale. I got a ladder for 5 quid. I think it is a great idea, especially if the benefits go to the council or charity. Less waste to landfill is good.
posted by bystander at 9:18 PM on June 21, 2006


Chiming in for the majority (from Gippsland, Australia). This is a non-problem. Reuse is a Good Thing.
posted by flabdablet at 10:38 PM on June 21, 2006


Here in Leeds the dumps are now officially called "household waste sorting sites". There are about 8 different types of bin.

Anything we can do to reduce landfill is considered good by the council. And me. But you didn't want to know my opinion. I'm guessing you don't live near a landfill site. In case you hadn't noticed, they're filling up, and our country isn't that big.

dash_slot - bad luck about the bikes.
posted by handee at 12:17 AM on June 22, 2006


Our local dump in Canberra even had a shop attached to it for selling 'trash and treasure' the staff found. Chiming in with everyone else - it sounds as though you're pissed because you didn't realise you could have made some money. Get over it. Once you relinquish possession the stuff's not yours anymore.
posted by goo at 12:33 AM on June 22, 2006


My local dump (in the UK) has a sign stating that no one is allowed to take anything without a license so this leads me to think that some people have licenses to sort through discarded items and take them. I notice that the employees of the dump also routinely remove still usable items from the trash pile and place them off to the side in a special area.

This is fine with me. If I have an old item that is still usable, I'd rather see it go to someone else than be destroyed. And if I think my items are worth something, I put them on eBay.

If you're really so concerned about items being recycled or re-sold, then take a little extra effort to destroy them before bringing them to the dump.
posted by gfrobe at 1:05 AM on June 22, 2006


Given that every tonne of waste which goes into landfill costs local people a substantial amount in local taxes and uses up scarce landfill space, I would be overjoyed to see any items I threw away getting diverted from landfill sites to being reused.

I strongly suspect you haven't got legal grounds to complain (in the UK at least). I don't understand why you're upset frankly.
posted by prentiz at 1:22 AM on June 22, 2006


Contrary to the apparent majority opinion, I understand where you're coming from. You specifically chose the option of getting rid of certain items permanently, not to be recirculated into the local market. If you had wanted something to be recycled, you would have elected for the proper method. If it were myself, I would feel that at least a little bit of my privacy had been invaded.

None of us know your motivations for getting rid of your things, nor do we know what those things were, so I do think the criticism is not totally merited.

I would go to the local governing body over the landfill and complain. What is happening might well be legal, but if it isn't, it should be stopped. So city hall, or whomever, just go drop by and see them. I do agree that its probably no longer a legal issue involving you and your former possessoins, but something that will involve the owner of the landfill, etc. So...pick up the phone book and look for the person in charge of refuse and rubbish, landfills, etc.
posted by Atreides at 5:03 AM on June 22, 2006


Dude, the guys at the dump are probably getting paid close to minimum wages. Do you really have a problem with them making a few bucks off stuff you deemed as worthless but someone else thinks is useable?

Next time put the items in the auctions yourself or have a good old-fashioned yard sale and keep the money.
posted by 543DoublePlay at 5:07 AM on June 22, 2006


sophist is right, in the UK when you throw out your rubbish you don't relinquish ownership, you are merely signalling an intention that you want the rubbish to be disposed of. if anyone steals from your dustbin then technically they are committing an offence under the theft act (1968),

although there is the obvious issue of enforceability; why on eath would anybody care enough about their rubbish to demand legal action?
posted by CliveDallas at 5:28 AM on June 22, 2006


If you wanted it destroyed (or otherwise made unusable), you should have done it yourself. I'm pretty sure reducing the size of landfills in your area is a much higher concern to your city than taking possessions which would otherwise end up going to waste.
posted by Meagan at 5:43 AM on June 22, 2006


I can understand both sides of this issue. While I can't begrudge trash workers or scroungers a shot at items they can use or sell (I've done some scrounging in my time...) I also wouldn't want my stuff popping up around town. If I did, well, I'd hold a yard sale.

There's an easy solution: shred your documents, and take a crowbar to anything else. I see a lot of gratuitously wrecked furniture and household items on curbs; either people are reveling in wanton destruction, or they're ensuring that nobody's on their front lawn at 4am shopping for a new end table. Or both.
posted by a young man in spats at 6:24 AM on June 22, 2006


gfrobe has it: you can get licences to filter through dumps and take what you fancy, for whatever ends.

It's a weirdly consumerist attitude, f&W, that whent you give something to the dump it is "dead". It isn't. If you want it destroyed, you'll have to destroy it first and take the results to the dump. Otherwise, you're just, er, setting it free.

I'm a bit surprised that you expected destruction, actually. If you give your car to the scrap merchants, are you pissed when you see them selling off every usable bit for spare parts?
posted by bonaldi at 7:00 AM on June 22, 2006


If you give your car to the scrap merchants, are you pissed when you see them selling off every usable bit for spare parts?

I wonder if there is some difference in connotation between "scrap merchants" and "landfill".
posted by mendel at 8:22 AM on June 22, 2006


fire&wings "Recently I took a large quantity of household junk to my local council run landfill/refuse site..., which I presumed would be destroyed and buried...is there a legal case here, and what might it rely on?...surely I should expect it to be destroyed? I'm in the UK."

According to the Wikipedia article on landfill in the UK, your initial assumptions were probably incorrect. Relevant parts from Wikipedia:
Landfill operators who also use their site for recycling, incineration or sorting waste can apply to have the relevant area designated a tax-free site

The Landfill Tax (Contaminated Land) Order 1996 (SI 1529)...also aims to promote a more sustainable approach to waste management by providing an incentive to dispose of less waste and to recover more value from waste through recycling.
Of course, I cannot speak with certainty about your particular case, but before registering complaints or trying to set up a legal argument, you should doublecheck if the landfill in question has actually done anything illegal, or if the problem was just that you made an incorrect assumption.
posted by Bugbread at 8:22 AM on June 22, 2006


No, I'm paying to have it buried, in what is called a "landfill." I took it to the site, threw it into a massive hole, and trusted that nobody would clamber down there and retreive it.

I think you need to investigate what is and isn't allowed with respect to landfill. You *think* you're paying to have it buried, but there may be an open program to resell items that may be of enough value to justify their sale. If your municipality is reducing your tax burden by selling junk to others, you should be glad, not frustrated; they are being frugal stewards of resources.

And like everyone else said and you admitted, it's not yours anymore anyway.

Just because it's being sold does not mean anything illicit is happening. You expect the stuff to be buried, but maybe your expectations are incorrect.
posted by Doohickie at 8:28 AM on June 22, 2006


As I understand it local councils can give licences called "totters rights" to those working in such facilities. These licences mean that these "totters" (old, old word for an old, old job) are allowed to sift and sell what they find. Perhaps someone with UK local government knowledge can be more precise and give references but I am not sure you have any legal grounds, sorry.
posted by peterbl at 8:57 AM on June 22, 2006


This is why I always burn my old journals.
posted by orangemiles at 9:50 AM on June 22, 2006


Just to put things into context...
Cambodia
Mali
India
Mozambique
posted by sixpack at 11:01 AM on June 22, 2006


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