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Can digging through a dumpster get you into trouble or is dumpster diving legal here in Minnesota?

Inflation has raised prices in just about every aspect of our lives, and to try to ease that pinch on your pocketbook (or checkbook-- who even knows what a 'pocketbook' even is anymore?!?) you might be tempted to sift through a dumpster behind a well-known store just to see if there's anything of value in there.

First, let's define what 'dumpster diving' actually is. According to the website,, here's how the term is defined:

'Dumpster diving' refers to the act of searching through commercial or residential waste to find items that can be reused, repurposed, or recycled. It’s a way to reduce waste and give discarded items a second life. You can find all sorts of treasures while dumpster diving, from furniture and electronics to clothing and books.

Curt St John/Townsquare Media-Rochester, MN
Curt St John/Townsquare Media-Rochester, MN

But is diving into your favorite dumpster legal here in Minnesota? There's actually good news if you want to seek out your nearest dumpster to see what you can find. According to, dumpster diving IS legal, not only here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but in all 50 states.

Dumpster diving is technically legal in all 50 states. In 1988, the Supreme Court ruled in State of California v. Greenwood that searching trash is legal as long as it does not conflict with any city, county, or state ordinances.

So while there isn't a Minnesota state statute that specifically prohibits dumpster diving, you might be in violation of a local county code or city ordinance, depending on where you are. sets out the following order for checking to make sure dumpster diving is allowed:

  1. Federal law: Legal
  2. State law: Legal
  3. County law: It depends on your specific location
  4. City law: It depends on your specific location
  5. A restaurant or business's specific rules: It depends on your specific location
  6. Private property: Illegal
  7. Warning signs or locks on the dumpster: Illegal

The main local ordinance you might be violating when you're considering diving into a dumpster (or at least rummaging through its contents) is often trespassing. FindLaw notes that trespassing could be defined as jumping over a fence, walking through a gate, or walking onto any private property to dumpster dive.

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And, of course, any dumpster that has a lock on it or has a warning sign on it, are also dumpsters into which you do NOT want to dive! The following video has some more tips on what's legally allowed when dumpster diving.

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