Ask LH: Is It Illegal To Take Other People’s Junk During Council Cleanups?

Ask LH: Is It Illegal To Take Other People’s Junk During Council Cleanups?
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Hi Lifehacker, Around once a year, our local council allows residents to put their unwanted goods on their front verge to be collected and disposed of at the local tip. However, there are groups of people that cruise around my street sifting through people’s rubbish and taking away what they want. Is this legal?

I’d vastly prefer it if these people steered clear of MY stuff. I just don’t like the idea of complete strangers stopping in the street and helping themselves to rubbish from my property! Thanks, Rubbish Retainer

[credit provider=”flickr” url=”″ creator=”KayVee.INC, Flickr”]

Dear RR,

As the adage goes; one man’s trash is another man’s treasure — if you’re tossing it out anyway, why do you care? Surely it’s better for your discarded goods to be reused by another person than ending up as landfill? Even if you’re a die-hard misanthrope, think of the environment!

In any event, the space between your house perimeter and the footpath usually belongs to the council. So it’s not actually your property anyway.

With that said, the legalities of kerbside scavenger hunts differ from place to place. Indeed, people have been threatened with fines for this practice in the past. Discarded goods technically become council property the moment they’re dumped on the nature strip and help to supplement the costs of collection. (Items such as scrap metal are often recycled and/or resold by the contracting services.)

I’ve actually experienced this first-hand — a few years ago, our council drove past with hedge clippers and removed the power cords to all the discarded CRT TVs on our street to discourage people from taking them. Bloody cheek, eh?

Thankfully, most councils turn a blind eye to this fine Aussie tradition. If you’re seriously worried about riff-raff trawling through your stuff, our advice is to hold off until the night before collection. Just be aware that this is kind of being un-Australian. Just sayin’.

We’re also keen to get the opinion of readers — do you enjoy it when people collect your council cleanup refuse, or would you prefer them to keep their filthy mits off? Have at it in the comments!


Have a question you want to put to Ask Lifehacker? Send it using our [contact text=”contact form”].


  • I don’t see an issue with someone collecting something bound for the dump anyway so long as they don’t leave the pile of trash all over the kerb/road.

    • This. I used to live in auburn and every collection weekend without fail this old guy would smash every monitor/tv/computer/laptop leave the smashed pieces around but take all the circuit boards (to melt the conductive material).

  • i dont have a problem with people taking the stuff, but the jerks who spread stuff out and make a mess do annoy me

  • I assumed that people took the TV Cables because of the copper. I didn’t realise it was to stop unwarranted analogue TV usage.

    • it’s a combination of both. Most councils recommend cutting the cords off broken appliances to prevent somebody plugging in a dodgy toaster and burning their house down.

      Most missing cables are from scrappers. Last I heard you could get something like $5/kilo for scrap copper, which is enough for a surprising number of people to spend their days ripping open microwaves and lopping cords off otherwise-working appliances. It’s always a race to beat them to the good stuff.

      On another note, the whole ‘once you put rubbish on the verge it becomes council property’ is legally questionable and I don’t know any cases where it’s been tested in the court.

      • Agreed. I also cut the cords off if I think the equipment faulty. Even if I leave it outside and someone wants it I would hope it prevents them from putting a faulty electrical item in their house. If someone wants it for parts or copper, more power to them!

  • I hope that this is not a genuine reader question. What kind of asshat would prefer to damage the environment with more landfill rather than let somebody else reuse/re-purpose/recycle the stuff you don’t want anyway.

    Personally, I was overjoyed to see the surplus wood and packing polystyrene(!) disappear from outside my house during the last clean-up. I was outside at the time, and a young chap wanted to use the polystyrene to make buildings for tabletop war gaming; and a couple of old-folks wanted the wood for the fire. Who in their right mind would prefer this stuff to go to landfill?

    You, Rubbish Retainer, are a dick.

    • This and all Ask LH questions are 100 per cent genuine. Whether all readers are serious is another matter, though.

    • Harsh but true. It’s like the people who get upset because others put rubbish in their bins.

      It’s a BIN – what were you going to do with it, bath in it or something? It’s all rubbish anyway, who gives a crap? Wankers that’s who.

          • I have had a neighbour who filled my bin instead of theirs so they didn’t have to take it out. I padlocked it for a weeks. They became more and more upset, they even called the police out.

            The police asked me about it and I explained what happened and they just laughed, and said to remember to take the lock off on the curb. I caught him bin night trying to use my already full bin and attempting to leave his rubbish. lying around. After some complaints the council started fining him every week he did it. Somehow they got footage of him doing it every week via my webcam. It took 6 weeks for him to start using his own bin and he checked mine every week still. He moved out after 6 months but he was a pain in the arse to live with.

          • OMG! That would have been so infuriating. Must be something seriously wrong with that guy!

          • Let’s just say that by the time he moved out I was rehearsing my defense for murdering him. I pity his new neighbours.

      • I agree, however people have been known to have been fined for disposing of certain substances or materials in the wrong bin type. I know my council gave my neighbour a nastygram the other month because they had put green-waste in the standard bin. They threatened a fine at the next occurence.
        So if other people use my bins, and I get in trouble for it, I’d be pissed!

    • To think, the money I might’ve saved filching polystyrene sheets for 40k boards instead of buying them from an arts supply store…

  • I encourage it. Last time I dumped a TV I taped the remote to it and a sign saying take it! It works! Included a few bits of info of its features. 😛

    • I’ve done that before. I usually managed to dig out the manual and leave it with the appliance as well!

    • If it doesn’t work, tape a sign on it saying “For sale $50”. Someone might steal it if they think it’s worth something.

    • Me too. I put out a stereo system and some kids walked past. I said it still works and there is nothing wrong with it. It just wasn’t worth selling. They got surround sound for free.
      Better than landfill any day.

  • You want to get rid of your stuff, but you complain when people take your stuff.

    Yep, totally normal to be irrationally annoyed by that.

  • What kind of crazy person objects to someone taking something they have thrown away? Stupidest thing I have ever heard.

  • Nobody else picked up on the totally unwarranted, totally stupid “unaustralian” slur?

  • Im pleased when I see the sh*t I put out go before collection cos then I don’t have to look at it sitting out there until collection… Ive never had a problem with people strewing it everywhere so its all good.

  • I’m happy for people to take my stuff and get some extra use out of it. It’s recycling at it’s best.
    I just hate it when people smash things just for the ‘fun’ of it or rummage through and spread it all over the kurb and road. Take what you want, but please keep my pile of crap orderly so that the council workers can easily collect whatever is left over.

  • I really don’t understand the logic OP, it’s hurting my head.

    maybe he’s in the land fill business and people recycling items are hurting said business?

    Or if you have issues with people taking your un-wanted items why don’t you just dispose of them yourself?

  • we recently had hard-rubbish collection, and there was a pamphlet sent out a week or two beforehand, and there’s a section about how it’s illegal for ‘organised groups’ to collect the rubbish.

    The only time it shits me is when you live in narrow streets, and they hold up traffic when they make zero attempt to actually park the car because “I’ll be really quick”

    I’d rather people take my junk – it means I can throw more out!

  • If Im chucking stuff out, its because I dont care about it and also dont care if anyone else helps themselves to it (in fact, I’d prefer that someone can re-use it, or even re-sell it if they wish, i dont have the time for all that!)

  • I’m not certain, but I have heard that the councils employ a contract company to deal with the waste. Part of this deal is that the contract companies salvage as much junk as they can to re-sell or recycle, thus increasing their profits.
    By taking the profitable good off of the rubbish collection you are thus effecting the contract companies moneymaking abilities. That is why its banned in so many areas is because if it happens and the junk collection companies don’t makes as much money, they will ask for more from the council.
    Its always about money.
    Every time.

    • To clarify, I really like the idea of one mans trash is another mans treasure and think that people should be free to grab what other people are throwing out, my grandfather built some crazy stuff out of junk other people were throwing out.

  • It is those that illegally dump on the sidewalk that annoy me. If you have rubbish that won’t fit in your bin then don’t put it on the sidewalk and brush your hands and say ‘not my problem anymore’. For gosh sakes, take responsibility of your belongings and dispose of it through proper channels (ie ring your council and state you have hard rubbish to remove,, I assume most councils have an accommodation plan for it like they do in the councils I have lived in in SA).

    • yeah, i put things just inside my gate if i dont want them, they usually go by next morning 🙂

  • My nephews actually make a handy bit of coin doing this in Brisbane. You wouldn’t believe the stuff that gets put on the street in upper middle-class suburbs like Carindale. Also, yeah, copper is a thing. They tend to strip a lot of fridges, air conditioners and water heaters for the copper wire/pipe.

  • If i put something out it’s because I don’t want it. If someone else does they’re certainly welcome to it.
    Having said that, if I see something I want I always go up and knock on the door first to verify it’s fine for me to take and there isn’t any problems with anything.

  • I’d vastly prefer it if these people steered clear of MY stuff You’re throwing it out you knob, it’s not your stuff anymore.

  • Not sure what this person is complaining about unless it’s the groups of people that sift through your stuff, make a huge mess and then sell it all anyways, I guess the point is that when you put it out, you think you’re giving it to council or to some random that will make use of it, not some vulture that makes a living at the expense of council. I personally don’t care, I sell anything I think I can get money for or care about, everything else I put out I can’t fix or can’t be bothered.

  • I unashamedly quite often pick up some quite good stuff in hard rubbish, and likewise have no issue if someone finds something of use in my own rubbish provided they don’t leave a bigger mess than when they started. Over the years I’ve collected several desktop PC’s, scanner, laptop, Reel to Reel recorder, digital piano stand, kids toys for garden, decent couches for friends etc etc.

    One of the coolest finds recently was a 8mm movie projector which I took to a family reunion a few weeks back and played some old family films from the 70’s which we hadnt been seen in probably 30 years, (including what appeared to be some of my first steps) … some of the stuff needs some repairs which I managed to do myself, for instance the lens on the projector was quite cloudy, but I removed all the internal elements of the lens late one night and polished each element, eventually taking to one pitted element with JIF of all things… and yep it worked. Satisfying being able to get more life out of old unwanted junk.

    By the time council gets to the piles they are quite a bit smaller, meaning less effort for them.

    The dudes that smash equipment to get at the copper… and leave a massive mess, that’s the main issue.

  • As long as they don’t make a mess or come into the yard for things that I’m probably going to throw out I don’t care. If they can sell it good for them.

  • In my area Wollongong Council require all hard rubbish to be stacked in a 2m long by 1m wide by 1m high pile. If it is outside of this sized pile they have the option to refuse pickup and leave it be removed back by the rate payer until next time. When I spend an hour or two dragging my unwanted hard rubbish up a steep driveway and stacking as required, I become very annoyed when I have to restack it because it is spread all over the footpath and on the road. If the council decide to not pick up my hard rubbish because it is outside of their stipulated stacking requirements I have to spend another hour or so taking it all back down the driveway again the next day till the Council’s next pickup.
    One time recently I heard a crash at about 6pm the night before hard rubbish pickup to find a couple spreading my hard rubbish over the footpath and road trying to pick whatever items. After I asked them to ‘restack it please’ when they took what they wanted, their lacklustre job of restacking meant I had to restack it again back into the shape that the council required, and then I was out there AGAIN within the hour after another “spreader” pushed the pile over again. One more restack. The next morning, again, the pile was spread on footpath and road, and so I had to restack a third time before leaving for work. So this is not about “who cares who takes your rubbish”. It’s about the annoyance of wasted time spent on multiple rehandling of said rubbish due to these “pickers”.

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