Is it legal to dumpster dive without a permit in Illinois? It depends on where you live

Damaged food, overstocked merchandise and store returns are just a few of the things you might find in a metro-east dumpster before items are taken to the landfill.

“Dumpster diving,” or searching through others’ garbage cans for items to keep, is practiced in Illinois and across the U.S., and some social media users have hailed it as an effective way to fight waste.

A 1988 U.S. Supreme Court case ruled it’s generally legal to take items from trash cans in public places as long as state, county or city ordinances don’t differ.

But is it legal to dumpster dive in Illinois? What about in Belleville specifically? Here’s what state law and a city ordinance say on the topic.

Is it legal to dumpster dive in Illinois?

Illinois state law doesn’t directly regulate the legality of dumpster diving, but does prohibit “scavenging” from open waste, or disposed items outside of a trash can.

So as long as you stay on public property, avoid trespassing on private property and make sure your city does not have an ordinance prohibiting it, you should be able to lawfully dumpster dive in Illinois.

Several Illinois municipalities have enacted ordinances regulating dumpster diving, so it’s important to check before heading out.

Some localities, like Chicago and Aurora, issue permits specific to the practice of dumpster diving.

Is dumpster diving allowed in Belleville?

A Belleville city ordinance restricts dumpster diving without a license.

No person shall engage in the business of scavenging for the removal of garbage, rubbish, offal, swill, carcasses and the like without a license to do so, approved by the mayor, according to the Belleville city ordinance.

The fee for this scavenging license is $400.

The city of Belleville did not issue any scavenger licenses in the 2022-23 license year and has not yet issued any for the 2023-24 year, which ends April 30, city clerk Jennifer Gain Meyer said in an email to the News-Democrat.

The Belleville Police Department made one arrest Oct. 26, 2023, leading to a charge of scavenging without a permit.