Occasionally, I have witnessed a Tempe police officer confronting a Dumpster diver collecting aluminum cans, which these days can fetch a nifty $1 a pound if you know where to take them to sell. How absurd that cops can —  or would — intercede. That’s especially true these days when poverty is ever more rampant, when unemployment is obscene and when people need to be allowed to carry out what humans have been doing since the beginning of time – talking ownership of what the wasteful waste.So first off, IF Tempe police are harassing aluminum can collectors, they should stop it immediately – and let folks seek to make a living. Never mind they might get cut on a jar or whatever.  I suspect they, like the rag-pickers who live off dumping grounds around the world, know the risks and adjust appropriately. Why should anyone be denied taking ownership of what others discard?

 I penned a “Beyond Belief” blog for the East Valley Tribune on Feb. 1, 2007, after the Scottsdale City Council had the audacity to vote 4-2 to make Dumpster diving illegal.  I noted it showed how “such an upscale community speaks volumes of its seeming callousness to poverty.”  I further noted that “America is the ultimate throwaway society.  The wealth that goes into garbage cans and, by the tons, into Dumpsters is obscene.  It is just too easy to throw furniture, working appliances, baby strollers, clothing, utensils, toys, books and half of Grandma’s home or apartment furnishings into the Dumpster behind her residence. In a smart and caring society, all this stuff would be thoughtfully sorted and looked at for worth and recycle value.”

On any Saturday, one could drive through alleys of housing developments and apartment complexes in Tempe and pile high a pickup with stuff left beside or inside of Dumpsters. Some of it could be sold at garage sales or donated to Goodwill.

I don’t know, but I suspect, the Tempe City Council one time, in the spirit of well-meaning public policy, made strangers pulling useful, valuable, recyclable items from Dumpsters and garbage bins illegal.  It is just the kind of  Nanny State law-making  we are so accustomed to seeing.  I know, you’re going to say Dumpster diving compromises people’s documents, papers that were recklessly thrown into the garbage.  I say, “Tosser, beware.”  Smart people shred anything close to being sensitive.  But the truth is, I am certain, those poring through Dumpsters are mostly after aluminum cans to sell – while some are in quest of stuff that can be used again or sold.   We have heard it said that Dumpster divers serve a public safety function in that they have discovered bodies, abandoned stolen goods, dangerous materials and dumped purses minus money. In my 2007 blog, I suggested, “Government and law enforcement are obsessed with security and call on the public to be their eyes and be on the lookout for suspicious activity.” 

In the end, those things salvaged mean less having to be hauled to the landfill and things like aluminum and cardboard can be recycled – a positive thing for the environment.                               

Those searching Dumpsters can be the last – and only eyes – who truly can spot strange things inside a Dumpster. Certainly, the city’s field services garbage truck drivers see very little detail as their machines hoist Dumpsters in the air and empty their contents in a blur

In the sanitized, copacetic world that we think we must have, we place too much emphasis on “order” and not on humanity. I found a web site that  asks, “What would Jesus say about Dumpster diving? I think he would hold weekly Dumpster-diving parties…. He would be right there inside the Dumpster with everyone else…exclaiming words of joy when he finds a sealed box of bread or a bright shining apple. He would take the food and feed those in the neighborhood…and then go fight for better processes when it comes to food waste…”

I suggested four years ago and do again, “It should not be a crime to search the public recesses of this planet for what the ‘haves have had’ and now no longer want… It should never be a crime to take what others don’t want. After all, one man’s junk can be another person’s treasure.

Dumpster diving and reclaiming useful “waste” should never be criminalized.