Is it OK to Steal From A Landfill?

Should it be considered a crime to steal from a landfill? That’s the question officials in Columbia, Mo. are grappling with right now.

Last week, two sanitation workers were busted for swiping 50 cases of beer from the city’s landfill. The beer was part of a much larger collection of 1,500 beer cases that had been thrown out by the Scheppers Distributing Company because they had expired. By the time the workers got there, nearly half the beer had been destroyed, but that still left hundreds of cases of Budweiser and Michelob Ultra to be looted.

According to the Columbia Tribune, the crime was only discovered after rumors had swirled around town for a week, prompting officials to review security tapes of the landfill. Sure enough, there was footage of the two Solid Waste Division employees driving a “city-owned pickup” to steal the booze.

If this were an ordinary crime, it would pretty much be an open and shut case. But city officials are still unsure whether this incident should be considered “criminal activity or just a policy violation.” Some might argue that property which has been thrown away should be fair game since it has been abandoned and will just go to waste otherwise. And in fact, there are plenty of people who have profited from rummaging through garbage, as we've noted in the past. Yet, as Columbia’s human resource director told the Tribune, “Once it’s in the landfill, it is city property.”

Whether or not you agree with this logic, there’s no question the workers acted foolishly. Just to recap: they used an easily identifiable city-owned car to steal dozens of cases of expired Budweiser from a trash heap (also owned by the city) in order to do what? Hold a dumpster-themed party? Maybe that would have earned them some street cred during prohibition, but right now, that just sounds like the dumb plot of someone who has already had more than enough to drink.

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