Things dumped outside a clothing drop-box: Fair game, or theft?

There is a clothing drop-box near my local post-office. It does not say ‘clothing only’ (though many of them do), however it does say ‘clothing’. People often drop all kinds of things off. I have seen giant metal desks, computer monitors with broken screens, strollers, boxes of food… just piled around outside of it.

If the box says ‘clothes’, and people leave stuff lying outside the box that isn’t clothes, is that stuff being dumped illegally, and is it fair game? Does it belong to the company that owns the box, since it was left for them? Or does it belong to the individual who owns the land on which the drop-box sits (next to a railroad, may be railroad property for all I know.)

The trash/broken things…that’s illegal dumping. But what about a good working stroller? I have to date liberated two strollers from there. I’m using them. When I’m done with them, I will pass them on to a crisis pregnancy center, and they will be put to good use. I was telling my parents this, and dad said not to get caught doing it, as it was theft. He said he’d seen something in the news about people stealing from these boxes - but, the story he saw was about people actually taking things out of the boxes. So my situation is not the same.



Those items, whether clothing or otherwise, are meant for the poor and destitute, not for scavenging, well-off opportunists.

Leave the stuff alone and move on.

The items are left there as donations for whatever charity put the box there, whether it’s Goodwill, the Salvation Army or another charity. Taking items from the box - or around the box - is theft.
If you’re looking for a stroller, go to their thrift store and pay whatever price they set. It’ll still be cheaper than buying a new one.
That’s one reason why, if I have items that won’t fit in the box, I take them either to a central location or an attended donation location (where they have the big truck and someone there during specific hours).

It’s theft. It is now so prevalent that charities put up notices to explain to the thieves just why there actions are theft. It seems to boil down to taking things you don’t own for your own use.

A woman of my acquaintance picked up something laying outside a Salvation Army drop, and was arrested for theft.

So yes, it’s stealing.

Does the box have a phone number on it? I bet it does. Call the number and ask someone in charge if they mind you taking non-clothing items from around their box. If they say that it’s OK, ask for it in writing.


Those items were left for the charitable organization to sell, so the org. could have that money. By taking the items without paying for them you’re depriving them of that money, and that is stealing, just as much as taking money out of their cash register would be stealing. And yes, your situation IS like the people taking stuff out of the boxes. You’re both taking things you know good and well are meant as donations to the charity, and you’re both wrong.

I’m of two minds on this issue. On a strictly moral/ethical level, I think that yes, it is theft. You shouldn’t do it.

OTOH, nearly every drop box I have ever seen has a sign posted on or near it warning potential donors that it is illegal to leave items on the ground/pavement outside the box. So, on a strictly legal level, you may be simply picking up illegally dumped items.

If you are of the mind set that “if it’s not against the law, it isn’t wrong” and there is a sign on/near the drop box to the effect that it is a violation of law to leave items outside/around/near the box rather than put them inside, have at it. I hope that if you do, you feel guilty as hell and develop an unpleasing digestive tract problem as a consequence.

If it’s a true charity drop box, you’ll have them on your ass.

If it’s one of the many many many ‘charity looking but for profit business’ drop boxes, you’ll still have them on your ass.

I say "fair game- BUT ONLY for personal use, and if you need it.

All right, I get the message.

I do still have one question: If I pass the items on to a (genuine) charity that accepts these sorts of items (the box in question is a for-profit-business drop box that specifically says ‘clothing and shoes only’), and if I pass them on in better shape than I found them, is it still a moral wrong (legal wrong completely aside)?

Morally, the only instance I can think of where it wouldn’t be stealing is if it’s about to pour down rain on something that would be ruined by it (a sofa or television, etc.) In that situation you could just be saving them the fee of taking it to the dump (which in some areas is fairly pricy.) Legally though? Still stealing, unfortunately.

Do people put stuff in the box so that the charity can make money by selling it, or just so that it will go to people who need it rather than being thrown out?

If you believe it’s the latter, you’re morally fine.

And I’d wager 75% of the people donating through those boxes assume the clothes are just given to poor people.

Well this was the bit I was thinking about…the “clothing only”. If the people who have the box are set up for clothing, maybe it’s more of a hassle for them to deal with non-clothing than it’s worth. Although, as it must happen, they may have something set up to deal with other stuff.

I think you’d have to ask the owners of the box, 'cause yes, legally and ethically they own it.

Well, that’s the point- they own the box , but likely not the ground around it, where the rest of the stuff is.

Legally, it’s theft. Morally… I don’t know. But I wouldn’t do it.

It’s a good reminder, though, that a drop box for clothing should be used for clothing and only for clothing. Larger items should be delivered to the charity itself, if they accept them. It’s not hard for someone to pick up a couple of strollers when they’re grabbing the rest of the donations, but something like a couch is just going to be more trouble than it’s worth. In that situation, it’s probably better on a moral level to take the couch than it is to leave it, if that makes sense.

So I drove by the box and saw that they have a website listed on the front. I wrote to them, enquiring as though I were a potential donor, wishing to leave good reusable non-clothing items at their box. And here is the reply I got:


Well, given this information, legally what I’ve been doing is the equivalent of picking up litter, non-prosecutable. The Retex people have no way of dealing with non-clothing items, and any that are left very possibly get sent to the dump unless some kind soul drives them a few miles away to a Goodwill drop-site (which incidentally I have also been doing).

Ideally, of course, the well-intentioned donors would drive the extra couple of miles to the Goodwill boxes (I know of several in this area) or to the local non-chain church-run thrift stores (I know of 3 within 5 miles), and if they would donate these things there, the things would indeed be for sale at a reasonable price, and I would indeed pay it.

Which still leaves a minor quandry: Knowing what I know, do I have a moral obligation to pick up this “litter” and lug it miles away to a true thrift store drop-site? Should I leave it for the garbage men?

After that- I’d say you could do anything at all with the items- except possibly sell them for your own profit.

Another vote for theft.

A lot of times the volunteers (many of whom are doing fine financially) will grab the good stuff before it even gets displayed. I can see giving a volunteer a couch if, say, it’s been there a really long time. I don’t think it’s right that they get first pick, though, if their mission is to help those in need.

I’m all about the Salvation Army. If you are REALLY poor, the last thing you need is to go to Goodwill, who is going to charge you money for the things you need. (Our local Goodwill made 1.5 million last year … profit. Somebody’s doing well.) The Salvation Army runs on a shoestring and use less money for overhead, percentage wise, than any other charity.

It’s litter. She’s picking up litter. Come ON. When the owners of the box say on their website that the stuff left outside the boxes is considered freakin’ LITTER and a person can be charged with littering for leaving stuff there (particularly non-clothing items—which they don’t want—and outside of the boxes), then anyone who picks up that stuff is picking up LITTER. That’s it. It’s not theft, it’s picking up freakin’ LITTER.