Talkin’ Trash

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Posted November 12, 2009 in News

It’s 1988 and the Supreme Court says its okey-dokey for cops to search through your trash without a warrant. The court says this ruling doesn’t infringe upon your Fourth Amendment rights—you know, that whole thing about “unreasonable searches and seizure.”

 

The ruling stems from a narcotics case, California vs. Greenwood, in which the State Superior Court and State Court of Appeals both agreed that it was unlawful for law enforcement to rummage through someone’s trash left out for collection in order to obtain warrants to search someone’s home. Eventually, though, the Supreme Court decides trash at the curb is fair game and there is no reasonable expectation of privacy once you cart out your junk to be picked up by the local sanitation department. Why? Because, trash left out on the curb is accessible to anyone and anything—animals, scavengers, snoops, curious passersby and mischievous children. Many still find this ruling arguable but, let’s take that ruling and flash-forward to right now.

 

The City of Chino just passed an amended ordinance that outlaws scavenging and makes it a ticket-able offense. So, cops can get their mitts all over your trash but no one else? Where’s the fairness in that?

 

According to the City of Chino, it’s fair. Why? Well, because “any recyclables left on the curb as part of a recycling program become the property of the City or the City’s authorized recyclable collector” states Michelle Van Der Linden, Chino’s official spokesperson. You pay for the city to collect and remove trash and so, City Hall’s argument goes, the City owns your trash. Hands off, trash diggers!

 

So, trash isn’t a free-for-all anymore. But don’t expect local officials to start slapping “Property of the City of Chino” stickers on your empty Mountain Dew two-liter.

 

Officials in Rancho Cucamonga passed a similar ordinance last year—prompting locals to post their online comments on the virtues of keeping trash free. One said collecting recyclables left at the curb helped him make some extra cash, contribute donations to charities and clean up the neighborhood—residents would even stop him so that he could haul away even more items. Another out-of-town resident who worked for a nonprofit organization said some of the stuff folks throw away can be re-used and recycled for art projects for children.

 

Clearly, making trash-digging a crime affects more than the wayward scavenger. So this prompts the question: How bad is the trash scavenging problem in Chino?

 

Van Der Linden says the new ordinance is “a proactive move on the part of the City Council to curb scavenging before it became a problem.”

 

And part of the problem, apparently, is the potential for scavengers to make extra change off someone else’s soda cans.

 “ . . . When recyclables are removed from waste containers, it is diverting dollars away from the program” Van Der Linden says. If the program gets impacted like this, refuse rates would go up and this, in turn, would cost residents and the city more money to keep it running, officials say.

 

“Scavenging has become a concern as issues regarding privacy and theft need to be addressed,” Mayor Dennis Yates trumpeted in a press release last month.

 

And so the ordinance was passed.

 

The fine for the first infraction is $50. The city even set up a 24-hour scavenging hotline—(909) 590-5526—and a special webpage at www.cityofchino.org/scavenging. You don’t even need to leave your name or address. Cops are set to target areas where high incidences of scavenging are being reported.

“Left unaddressed, scavenging would cost everyone,” Yates intoned last month.

 

So, it’s a money thing. And a privacy thing. And a law enforcement thing. And now, being green in Chino—at least as far as City Hall is concerned—means recycling your own empties. Dumpster divers, you have been warned.


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