Scavenging (Theft of Recyclables)


What is “scavenging” and is it a crime?

Taking recyclables or trash from garbage or recycling containers at homes or businesses for personal use (or even fundraising) is called scavenging. It is considered theft and a misdemeanor violation under Mountain View City Code subject to citation or arrest. 

Can I give someone permission to take recyclables from my containers?

No.  Once materials are set out in containers for collection, they become the property of the City and its hauler. Property owners may never give permission to anyone to remove items from containers, but may set aside recyclables for donation in a different location than the set out and on a different day than regular collection. 

What should I do if I see someone taking or stealing recyclables or garbage from containers?

If you see someone other than the City or Recology employees taking recyclables or trash from either garbage or recycling containers at homes or businesses, report scavenging in progress by immediately calling the Mountain View Police Department non-emergency dispatcher at (650) 903-6395. 

You can also report scavenging using the Police Department's online crime reporting system. Choose "Suspicious Circumstance" and be sure to make the first word of your description "Scavenging." You can choose to skip providing contact information, but it helps us if we need to follow up with you for further information or to check on reoccurrence.

By reporting scavenging, you will help us identify patterns and areas where repetitive scavenging is occurring. Please try to note the date and time of the occurrence, a description of the person, and the method of collection (bag, shopping cart, or vehicle with make/model and license number if easily available). If the scavenging occurs on a regular basis, please let the dispatcher know or note that in the online report. A police officer will try and be present at that time to warn or cite the scavenger. Do not approach the scavenger on your own. 

Please keep reporting scavenging each time it occurs so that the Police can establish a track record of areas that might need special enforcement. Do not be discouraged if your first call was considered a lower priority, or if you are directed to use the online reporting system. 

How can I prevent scavenging?

Set out your recycling just before 7 a.m. on recycling day.  Most scavengers come in the middle of the night.  You can also keep your bottles and cans which have a redemption value (cash) separated and set those out with your cart just before 7 a.m. 

Are fundraisers allowed to take garbage or recycling from our containers if we give permission?

Fundraising activities are allowed under certain conditions and must have a special permit.  However, fundraisers are prohibited from taking items from garbage and recycling containers (even if the resident or business gives permission).

For example, only non-profit organizations with a special recycling fundraising permit from the City may collect recycling if it is

  1. set aside for them by the donor;
  2. placed in a bag or box on private property away from regular containers; and
  3. is collected on a different day than scheduled garbage and recycling collection.

How does scavenging hurt?

Scavenging is prohibited by Mountain View City Code for a variety of reasons. The act of scavenging creates a public nuisance of noise and litter, and can make residents feel threatened by someone going through their containers. The revenue from recycling is used to help offset the costs of collection and keeps utility rates low.