Collecting scrap metal items for recycling is a great way to pad your income, start a scrapping business or just help neighbors in your community get their large metal appliances and other materials to the local scrap metal recycling facility. But is scrap metal collection legal in Southeastern Massachusetts? What are the laws and regulations in your city or town? It is important to know that the laws are for scrapping in your area – specifically the cities, towns and county areas that you frequent in your collections. If it isn’t legal, you could be subject to a ticket or a fine from law enforcement – or worse.
Scrap Metal Recycling: A History
People have been scrapping in North American for generations. For literally hundreds of years, waste materials have been considered by the law to be public property. Once your trash items go out to the curb for pick-up, they no longer belong to you. Until they get picked up by trash or recycling collection, they don’t even belong to the city or municipality that is responsible for pick-up. In fact, laws similar to this have been practiced for centuries throughout Europe and even by Native Americans in our own country, prior to official government law.
Due to illegal activities, such as identity theft, which involves the stealing of personal information, many people are concerned about individuals picking through their trash. Even if you are just there for recyclable items, someone might contact the police because they think you are up to no good. The point is, laws are there to protect people, but the people who usually break those laws to do illegal activities rarely follow the law. So if it were actually illegal to check dumpsters for items of interest, would it stop someone looking for food, personal data or anything else that they wanted? Not likely.
What is a Scrapper?
Collecting scrap metal isn’t about snooping around for personal items that could be used for identity theft or other illegal activities. It’s about looking for discarded scrap metal items that can be collected, recycled and used to make money. There has never been anything illegal or wrong about collecting scrap metal from trash cans, dumpsters or curbs and recycling it instead of leaving it to be taken to the local landfill.
Some people think that scrap metal collection takes recycling money out of the hands of the community through government recycling redemption. That simply is not true. People think that the government is profiting off of scrap metal collection from local residents, or that a loss of income generated in this manner will result in higher taxes. The truth is that the government does not profit from recycling collection and any money that is made from recycling is not large enough to mandate tax increases if that amount lessens due to scrapping.
Local Laws and Ordinances
All of that history and truth aside, there are still some communities that incorporate laws and ordinances that make collecting scrap metal and taking it to a local scrap metal recycling facility a ticket-able offense. Find out what the law is in your area. If you aren’t sure or if you just want to be careful, consider knocking on the door or the homeowner or business owner to ask permission to take the scrap metal that you find before you remove it from the premises. So whether you are scrapping in Westport, New Bedford or Providence, make sure you know what the laws are and that you do everything you can to work within them to avoid conflict or misunderstandings.
When challenged, the long-running law about waste materials becoming public domain when they are taken to the curb holds. The Supreme Court of the United States confirmed this in a famous case of The State of California vs. Greenwood in 1988. This particular case was about a charge of illegal search and seizure of garbage that was left outside of a home for trash collection. The Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment didn’t prohibit this and, in fact, declared that it was “common knowledge” that trash left curbside was “readily accessible to animals, children, scavengers, snoops, and other members of the public.”
Do Everything You Can…
Whenever you are out collecting scrap metal to take to your local scrap metal recycling facility, make sure to represent scrappers well in everything that you do. Make sure that your truck is street legal, that your license and everything is up to date. Don’t drive around with a truck that is overflowing with garbage. Cover your scrap metal collection with a tarp whenever possible and store excess items at home in a garage, shed or other storage facility until you are ready to take it in to sell it.
Scrapping in the Westport area can be very profitable and every item you retrieve from dumpsters, trash cans, curbs and local businesses is one less item wasting away in our local landfill. Contact Mid City Scrap Iron and Salvage in Westport for information about hours of operation and the types of items accepted at their Southeastern Massachusetts facility. Mid City serves scrappers, homeowners, business owners and municipalities from all over the region, including New Bedford, Fall River, Dartmouth and all the way on out to the Cape.