One man's trash not legally another's treasure

With moving season here, curbside finds are everywhere, but few realize Dumpster diving is a crime

Lacey Dumler doesn't often intend to go Dumpster diving. But sometimes, she says, the opportunity is too good to refuse.

Take, for example, the time Dumler - an eight-year Lawrence resident - found an abandoned Papasan chair left by the garbage during one of the city's big moving weekends. Who could resist the temptation of a free piece of furniture in good shape?

"I really only do it when it's hard not to," Dumler said of her approach to Dumpster diving. "It's like a treasure hunt, but without the pirates."

There's only one problem: Dumpster diving is illegal.

"It is against the law to get into somebody else's trash Dumpster, unless it's your trash Dumpster or your landlord's trash Dumpster and it's part of your rental arrangement to be in that Dumpster," said Assistant City Manager Dave Corliss, who leads City Hall's legal services department.


Lance Lee, of Lawrence, looks over some compact discs he discovered in a Dumpster late Friday afternoon. As apartment dwellers' leases expire, Dumpsters fill up with trash - and treasure - as people clear out their residences and move on.

That news seems unlikely to deter the hundreds of "divers" from Lawrence and the surrounding area who are scouring the city's alleys, trash bins and other garbage collection points this weekend, when leases end and apartment complexes experience massive turnover among their tenants.

Martha Cusick, manager at The Legends, 4101 W. 24th St., said she's seen tenants leave behind microwaves, small refrigerators and other perfectly good merchandise rather than bother with the effort and expense of moving.

The availability of so much good free stuff, she said, can be irresistible even though divers often must cross private property lines to collect the booty.

"There's so much of it going on, it's kind of hard to control," Cusick said. "There's people who come into the city just to go down the street and see what's been put out."

The city code says that: "The city shall have the exclusive right to collect and dispose of refuse within the city limits and no other person shall collect and dispose of refuse within the city," unless authorized by City Hall.

Violations, however, haven't resulted in much enforcement.

The punishment for Dumpster diving is a fine imposed by the municipal court judge, Lawrence Police Capt. Steve Zarnowiec said.

"I'm sure there are occasional complaints about somebody going through somebody else's trash," Assistant City Manager Dave Corliss said. "I don't recall getting that complaint myself."


Roommates Jodi Pearson, a Kansas University senior from Wayzata, Minn., left, and Elise Berlau, a KU senior from Prairie Village, wind up to toss a rug into a Dumpster behind the apartment they are moving from this weekend. Aware of the many people who Dumpster dive, the students said they bought a paper shredder. "We didn't want to risk it," said another roommate Natalie Fisher, a KU senior from Overland Park, referring to the danger of identity theft.

And Cusick says she's fine with Dumpster diving, so long as private property is treated with respect.

"We don't care if people want to take things," she said. "But we don't want people here who would do damage."

Dumler said she thought the law was "absurd," and that people shouldn't risk punishment for salvaging good items that might otherwise be trashed.

"Waste not," she said. "Want not."

Where to leave your stuff...

St. John's Rummage House
1246 Ky.
Items: Clothing, household and kitchen items, furniture, small appliances.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Wednesdays. 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturdays.
Donations may be left on the house's porch during the day. Before leaving large items, please call 331-2219.

Lawrence Social Service League Store
905 R.I.
Items: Clothing, household and kitchen items, bicycles, tables and chairs, small appliances, toys.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Friday. 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.
Donations accepted only during store hours.

Penn House
1035 Pa.
Items: Clothing, household and kitchen items, canned goods, small appliances.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Donations accepted only during store hours.

Ballard Community Center
708 Elm
Items: Children's clothing.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
Donations accepted only during store hours.

2200 W 31st St.
Items: Clothing, household and kitchen items, furniture, small appliances.
Hours: 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Noon to 4 p.m., Sunday.
Donations accepted only during store hours.

Salvation Army Store
No phone
Items: Clothing, household and kitchen items.
Donations may be left at the trailer parked on the northwest corner of 19th Street and Haskell Ave.



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