ST. LOUIS – “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” We’ve all heard the phrase, but for some, it might apply more literally to certain aspects of their life than others.

Dumpster diving is an activity in which people vastly search through trash in hold to find items with usable, sentimental or monetary value. It’s not something you see every day, but every once in awhile, you might find someone partaking in such activities.

A financial assistance website called recently analyzed the concept of dumpster diving, which could take on new meaning in the day and age of inflation.

The big question through this all… Is dumpster diving legal in Missouri and Illinois?

To answer that in-depth, it’s important to note the impact of 1988 Supreme Court decision of California v. Greenwood. The official court holding states: “The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the warrantless search and seizure of garbage left for collection outside the curtilage of a home.”

Essentially, the court ruled that it is legal to search through trash left in a public space as long as such activities don’t conflict with any city, county or state ordinances.

Missouri and Illinois do not specifically address “dumpster diving” within their state statutes. Many other iterations of that term – like scavenging, gleaning and curb shopping – also do not appear in Missouri statute.

One Illinois statue does prohibit the act of “scavenging,” but on the condition that it derives from “the open dumping of any waste.” In that case, you should not be looking through places with trash outside waste containers or in illegal waste disposal sites.

Both states of the St. Louis metropolitan area otherwise do not prohibit the concept of “dumpster diving” in public areas. Keep in mind, though, this does not apply for private premises, like land belonging to homeowners and businesses. explains why dumpster diving could be deemed illegal in private areas of Missouri and Illinois, plus some other considerations:


“Dumpster diving in Missouri is only illegal if you enter private property. This is because you cannot visit such a place without permission. So the owner can call you a thief for dumpster diving. Because of this, the act is illegal, and you will face trouble. The activity is also prohibited if you leave a mess behind for city workers to clean up.”


“Does the removal of other people’s trash from a dumpster constitute theft? That’s the main concern dumpster divers often have while they are up to kick start their dumpster diving hauls in Illinois. …

Dumpster diving is NOT illegal in Illinois only if you are not caught trespassing. This means you can dive into public dumpsters, pickups, and curbs as long as you don’t trespass on private property. If you’re caught doing this, you could be charged.”

While not illegal on a federal or state level, there are two considerations to keep in mind with dumpster diving.

  • Make sure to check local municipality or county ordinances.
  • Make sure any possible land for dumpster diving is deemed a public area, not private.