Who owns the bottles and cans in your bin?

Bin business: When the recycling bin goes out to kerb for collection, those bottles and cans inside are legally owned by someone - so technically, they are not free for the taking. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
Bin business: When the recycling bin goes out to kerb for collection, those bottles and cans inside are legally owned by someone - so technically, they are not free for the taking. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

Despite what some people may think, bottles and cans in kerbside recycling bins are not free for the taking.

In the wake of the popularity of the Return and Earn scheme and the installation of reverse vending machines (albeit only as near as Coffs Harbour), some claim that no one actually owns the contents of the bins once they are placed at the kerb.

However, legally speaking, when the bins are within a property boundary, the contents are owned by the people living there.

And according to the Local Government Act when the bins are left at the kerbside for collection, the contents  become the property of the council.

Whether that means removing bottles and cans from the bins is illegal is not clear.

A question to the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) as to whether bin raiders were breaking the law was left unanswered.

In Wollongong, residents have reported people raiding recycling bins.

A Wollongong City Council spokesman said some residents had voiced their concerns about the practice.

“Council has received inquiries about people sorting through recyclable waste on the kerbside,” the spokesman said.

“Residents should contact the EPA to report incidents.”

The spokesman said council’s customer service team should be contacted if litter was left on the street as a result of people digging through kerbside bins.

The spokesman said the council would work with the EPA to address the issue of recycling bin raiders.