I admit, way back in my college days, when I was young and stupid, I experimented with…dumpster diving. I’m not proud of it, but hey, free stuff, right?

So I got to wondering, is this lucrative and unsanitary practice legal in the state of Illinois?

To find out, I reached out to Sergeant James Brown of the Quincy Police Department. Turns out, the answer is…sort of.

While there are no laws in the county or state that say “nope, you can’t dumpster dive”, a number of other laws do factor into your second-hand pillaging excursions, so beware.

If a dumpster is on private property, trespassing becomes a concern. Similarly, if you take something from said dumpster, regardless of its value, you can be cited for theft. So don’t do it.

However, if a dumpster is located on public property (e.g. a roadway or park), discarded items become “abandoned property” (similar to household trash sitting at your curb). In this instance, you have to consider what measures the owner of the dumpster took to protect the contents. Is there a lock on the dumpster? Is it labeled with a “no trespassing” sign? If so, you’re no longer dealing with abandoned property and, again, you can be cited for trespassing and/or theft.

"Basically, it all boils down to if the person has a right to be on the property where the dumpster is located, does the person have any permission to dumpster dive, and has the dumpster owner taken any steps to secure the contents of the dumpster,” Sergeant Brown says.

So what happens if you are busted for dumpster diving where you shouldn’t? In most instances, you’ll be cited with a city ordinance violation for trespassing or theft and charged with a fine only. However, if you’re charged at the state level with trespassing and/or theft, you’re looking at a misdemeanor which are subject to fines, up to a year in jail, and/or being placed on supervision or probation.

So there you have it. Dumpster diving in the state of Illinois is definitely, kind of, mostly legal(ish) in some (but not all) cases. Don’t be stupid about it, and you should be fine.