Ask LH: Can I Take Unused Equipment From My Workplace Without Asking?

Dear Lifehacker, am I allowed to take things from my workplace that have been thrown out for disposal? I'm often asked to throw things into a skip that I think still have some value. Can I legally "save" them? Thanks, Pack Rat

Unwanted equipment picture from Shutterstock

Dear PR,

To the best of our knowledge, there are no laws that explicitly prohibit the salvaging of discarded goods from dumpsters, with a few caveats. For example, you can't just wander onto private property and start rooting through their garbage — that would be trespassing. But as an employee of the company, you already have permission to be there.

As long as the disposed goods are destined for the tip (as opposed to a charity or other beneficiary) it should be fair game. The business relinquished its claim when the item was placed in the trash. With that said, your company might have its own policy in place that bans employees from this practice.

There are a whole slew of reasons why they might not want you to repurpose old, abandoned equipment. For example, if something malfunctioned and you or your property got damaged, the temptation to seek some form of compensation would be high.

After all, it was their equipment and they let you take it home. Some of the blame must surely lay with them, right? Unfortunately, this is how a lot of people think. Personal responsibility tends to be side-stepped when money is on the line.

Similarly, if the "refuse" is particularly useful or valuable, it could lead to arguments in the office and accusations of nepotism among employees who missed out. These are headaches that management don't need: better to just throw it all out and be done with it.

In any event, you should always ask permission before reclaiming company equipment as your own. Secretly hoarding stuff after you were specifically instructed to throw it in the trash is sneaky and dishonest. If your boss ever found out, we doubt they'd look very favourably upon you.

If you really want something that's destined for the tip, do the right thing and put a request in. The worst they can do is say no.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    i love working in IT, when we do Ewaste days or go through old shit to get rid of, we get first dibs.
    scored an unopened GT640 video card a few months back (nothing special, but good for a media box)

    For IT stuff, it'd also be a problem if they asked you to destroy the equipment and you decided to keep it instead.

    For things like hard drives, memory cards, etc, they might want to make sure no one can access the data that was stored there. Taking the equipment home instead would be a bit of a problem.

      If there is sensitive data on those items it should be securely deleted before throwing them away anyway.

    In one of the factories in my old company, someone took a 44 gallon drum from the pile awaiting disposal. Got it home, used a blow torch to open the top, and the vapor inside exploded and killed him. The family tried to sue the company for breaching duty of care or whatever.. Extreme example but it's the sort of thing that drives companies to say no.

    @jamesh if they actually cared about data security on storage devices they would not just be throwing away drives and cards. there are speciality destruction services for that sort of thing.

      +1. if your old hard drives/backup tapes/etc are making it anywhere near a dumpster without being securely destroyed somebody probably stands to lose their job.

    Probably a good idea to write the headline so it accurately reflects the story.

    If you really want something that’s destined for the tip, do the right thing and put a request in. The worst they can do is say no
    If they have written the item off from a tax point of view, they have to discard it, not give it to someone. Giving to charity and to an individual is seen differently with tax write-offs.

    Keep that in mind before putting in written requests.

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