This question comes up a lot. What is salvaging and what is looting?
Some writers use strange definitions for "looting". Rawles (Patriots) for instance, refers constantly to "looters" in his post-SHTF world. That "looters" are the folks going around forcibly taking stuff from others.
Most of us however, have an image of what a looter is already; a mob of inner city folk cleaning out a shoe store or electronics store during a brief period of anarchy such as the aftermath of a power outage or natural disaster. The media and law enforcment community generally agree with us and identify these perps as "looters".
"Looting" is the process of taking advantage of a lapse in law and order (lessening the chances of getting caught or shot - looters are cowards by and large) to quickly grab and run with whatever the looter can get their hands on.
Perhaps the differing identification of "looter" comes from ancient times such as during the fall of the Roman Empire as barbarians looted and pillaged their way across the land. Who knows? I'll stick with the modern definition.
"Salvage" is a classic term of recovering lost, unwanted or abandoned goods. For instance, salvagers have made a living for years seeking out abandoned ships at sea, gleaning junk yards or clearing out old buildings on behalf of the owner or municipality. Salvage is a dirty, but neccessary trade in our modern world and in most cases, very legal.
In the post-SHTF world, the definitions will vary slightly, but let's run through some scenarios and answers.
In a societal collapse, looters will take whatever is not nailed down. Many early looters will be the same described above and are more likely to take "wants" rather than "needs" i.e. electronics, fancy clothing, shoes, jewelry or cars. Once they discover that these types of goods are slightly better than useless and have no effect on their empty stomachs, will quickly turn to grocery and liquor stores if they have not already.
Once the easy pickings are cleared, the looter will either adapt to become a full time thief and bandit or perish. Since I think most looters are cowards, act out of opportunity and rarely organized, it is not likely they will not move on to confrontational and planned tactics of robbery. Rather, he will be overtaken by any violent and much better organized gang who will simply take what the looter has obtained at the point of a gun.
Looters, especially in the urban areas, will quickly become endangered as those who have protect their goods and those who don't decend into violence to get what they want.
Salvagers will come later. Those who were smart enough to reclaim castoffs in the pre-SHTF world will adapt to searching for abandoned valuable goods afterwards. Rather than seek confrontation, the salvager will carefully research, study and recon potential locations before acting. He will move with caution and if he is smart, with at least one helper (but a team is better).
The salvager may target already picked over grocery stores with plans to "search with a fine tooth comb" the remains, but will more than likely move up the supply chain. Warehouses, trailers, and rail cars will be salvaged for instance.
Now, what about you? At what point does removing stuff from a neighbor's empty house become salvage rather than looting? What about the local grocer or drug store? How about those warehouses or office buildings?
In my opinion, claiming left behind goods is salvage when the previous owner is no longer around, has abandoned the property and given every intention of never returning to claim their belongings. Sadly, this may be because of their demise, but it is what it is.
Do with it what you will. Just keep the two words and actions clear.