This is a nonfiction recollection of events as experienced by me; used with permission.
I live in Oregon where cans and bottles are now 10 cents each if you recycle them. At the time of the following events they were 5 cents which is still good if you can collect a lot. Because of their value, people used to go through the trash on my street the night before trash got picked up. Or so I thought.
When you buy something to drink that's in a bottle or can, you have to pay the extra money so you are more likely to recycle to get that money back. That is why I don't just throw the things I can recycle in the trash. Even though that's the case, for a while I would go out in the morning and it was clear someone had gone through the trash.
For a while, I had some issues with sleeping well so I would go out to my porch and just try to relax myself out in the fresh air before I tried to sleep again. On a random night, I went out there because of this and there was someone with a flashlight holding a garbage bag that came out of my trash can.
When I saw this I decided to walk over to where he was and ask him what he was doing in the trash. He said he was looking for returns and I told him I don't put them in the trash so he needs to clean up the mess and get away from my house. After that he headed to the neighbor's trash and I said you need to just leave you're not going to find anything and so he gave up.
I thought it was annoying that I had to deal with that but at least he didn't argue with me so I just let it go. However, my trash continued to be outside of the can on trash day so one night I decided to get up around the time I caught the man the first time. That way, I could see what he was doing since he knew there were no returns.
At about the same time as before, I was on the porch and I could see him with his flashlight. I didn't say anything and just watched as he flipped the lid of the trash can and started to go through the bags. That's when I saw him taking out an old bill I threw away and carefully reading it before moving on to what was next. Then, he held up some prescription bottles I threw out and he was reading them.
This is when I realized that he wasn't looking for returns at all. He was trying to find useful information for identity theft and also medications that would be good to break into my house for later to steal. At this point I got upset and yelled at him and called the police. However, the police said that there's not much they can do to help and to just be more careful about what I threw away.
I started to tear up the labels of the prescription bottles before I threw them away and I would get a marker and just scribble over anything like my name on a piece of junk mail. Since I was always cleaning out a litter box regularly, I would set a couple of bags of used litter aside and make sure to put anything that looked important in them and shake it up after making sure everything was unreadable.
These days nobody goes through my trash and the neighbors have seemed to have also made it hard to get anything out of their trash as well. The man stopped coming around but a few times there have been others that didn't clean up after they look through the trash. They never find anything so I think word got out because it has been many months now since I've had an issue.
It's rough living on the streets so I get why someone would be desperate to find returns. However, going through the trash and trying to get information to use for something nefarious is not right. I now know that everything I throw away is fair game but I also know I don't have to make it easy for someone to get what they're looking for.