They are Sunday evening fixtures in Avon Lake: The pickup trucks that move slowly up and down the city streets, stopping in front of houses to pick through trash set out for Monday’s garbage pickup.
Plenty of items are fair game for the taking, including old couches, furniture and appliances. Some consider it the ultimate recycling. But is it legal?
In cities such as Avon Lake, where there are no ordinances prohibiting scavenging, the answer is yes.
The legality of scavenging goes back to the 1980s when the Supreme Court ruled it legal in the United States and overturned a Court of Appeals ruling saying otherwise.
According to the 1988 Supreme Court Ruling of California vs. Greenwood, when a person throws something out, that item is now the public domain.
The issue in that case was whether the Fourth Amendment prohibited the warrantless search and seizure of garbage left for collection outside the curtilage of a home.
The decision, in part states, “It is common knowledge that plastic garbage bags left on or at the side of a public street are readily accessible to animals, children, scavengers, snoops, and other members of the public.”
Cities, however, have the authority to prohibit scavenging by local regulation.
Avon Lake does not have a local regulation.
“As long as stuff is put out on the tree lawn it can be taken,” Lt. Duane Streator said. "Some cities have had discussions about having ordinances that would restrict it.”
In 2010, the city of Parma passed an ordinance that increased the penalty for rummaging through trash. Doing so could result in fines up to $500 (from a previous $150) and potential jail time.
According to Parma’s Ordinance No. 660 titled “scavenging,” “no person, except an employee of the Department, shall sort over and/or remove any of such refuse, waste, rubbish or trash.”
Still, some Avon Lake residents feel that scavengers have become too aggressive.
A Tomahawk Drive resident, who asked that her name be used, cited an instance where two scavengers asked if they could take a hot water tank that was still in her garage. She had planned on taking it to the junkyard herself.
“One person actually came around the back of the house where we were working in the yard,” she said. “If it's in my garage it's not going anywhere and they shouldn't stop.”
She also said her someone asked her father if he was getting rid of his riding mower because it was at the end of the driveway. Her father was in the garage getting bags to empty the grass clippings in at the time. The resident said her husband was also approached as to whether he was going to be “junking” a new mower while he too was emptying the mower's bag.
“We don't mind the trash picking at the end of the drive if it was from the trash, but not from my garage or while we're using our lawn mower,” she said.
Last month there was speculation that a breathing device left on a driveway near the treelawn on a Monday
Do you think scavenging should remain legal in Avon Lake? Take our poll.