From reading an existing question, it can be illegal to take belongings left in the street, depending on the area of the world you are referring to.

So let me present a specific scenario, in the UK, to see how legal it is.

Bob needs metal. Bob also wants to be eco friendly, so he decides a good way to get metal that can be recycled is through soda and food cans that have been thrown away in garbage bins. Bob decides to get his metal from both public bins, that anyone can use to dispose of rubbish in, and through large bins that are used by venues.

Bob asks the venues if he may take their scrap tin cans, but he does not for the public bins he scavenges from. Is Bob at fault for theft in either of these cases?

  • @MichaelHarvey For the sake of the argument, Bob is melting it down and selling it on to metal merchants (he’s actually a very successful businessman I’ll have you know!) Sep 15, 2022 at 22:17
  • @MichaelHarvey, apparently someone doesn't want us to speak to each other! Sep 16, 2022 at 15:15

1 Answer 1


As long as the garbage cans are on my ground, even if they are easily accessible, they and their content are still my property. So you are not save of being accused of theft.

Consider the case of someone who is quite stupid and hides a birthday present in their garbage can because they can't think of a better place. Until they put the bin out for collection, that birthday present isn't lost, or abandoned, but the property of its owner.

And I remember that several towns in Germany declared that if you put your garbage out for collection, it becomes property of the towns. That happened because people put their large trash (sofas, bicycles etc.) out in a nice pile, and then someone would come to pick out valuables and leave an awful mess behind. This made it illegal. You wouldn't be prosecuted if you took something and left a clean, orderly, slightly smaller pile behind.

  • 1
    How does town vs private ownership change the legality of leaving a mess behind? Sep 16, 2022 at 15:05
  • 1
    The question says "public bins", not garbage cans on private property.
    – Barmar
    Mar 28 at 20:00

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