Taylorsville • To Joshua Alvarez, dumpster diving is a harmless tradition that keeps junk out of landfills and puts a little money in the pockets of people trying to scrape by.
"If they're using something that we're not, good for them," Alvarez said Friday as he placed branches and old pieces of wood in a trash bin on the street in front of his house.
A few blocks away, Bryce Schieving said he's seen "all kinds of people looking for all kinds of things" in trash bins.
"One man's junk is another man's treasure," he said. "If someone finds value in it, I don't have a problem with it."
But Taylorsville officials consider the practice a nuisance and a danger.
They say the scavengers are causing a safety problem by climbing inside the bins, leaving trash scattered on the street, intimidating residents when they wait outside their homes for them to throw something away and stealing scrap metal that the Wasatch Front Waste and Recycling District sells to keep down customer costs.
So this year, police are citing scavengers who remove anything from the large trash bins that will be placed in a different neighborhood every day during the next month as part of the city's annual cleanup. The receptacles are for trash, yard waste and large items.
Signs on the bins warn that only residents can put items inside them and that removing anything is considered theft. A theft conviction carries a maximum sentence of 180 days in jail and a $1,940 fine.
At least two citations were issued Thursday, the first day of the program, according to Tracy Wyant, the Unified Police Department's Taylorsville precinct chief. One was to a woman who had her kids, about ages 10 and 12, look through the bins for scrap metal.
Wyant said the number of complaints about strangers digging through the bins or going onto lawns to take items they think are being thrown away have increased in the past several years.
"Our goal is for compliance," he said. "Our goal is not to cite people."
Pam Roberts, Wasatch Front's executive director, said scavenging has been a problem for years throughout the district and increases when the economy is bad. The district serves 81,000 customers in unincorporated Salt Lake County, Taylorsville, Cottonwood Heights, Herriman, Holladay and part of Murray.
Some scavengers will drive pickups with trailers attached and block the streets as they load up, she said. They also cause a safety concern, she said.
"Those containers are our responsibility," Roberts said. "We definitely don't want people climbing in and out of them, especially children."
Taylorsville resident Trish King said a "whole bunch" of scavengers came through her neighborhood last year. One drove in with a trailer and watched for the bins to get full so he could load up his vehicle, she said.
Her neighbor, Victor Aguirre, said he has seen people digging through the trash, but no one has left a mess so far. He sometimes leaves items that scavengers might want sitting next to the bins so they won't climb in.
"We try to be as safe and clean as possible," Aguirre said. "That's what the program is all about."