SAFE Meeting – Curbside Recycling Theft

Why it is a problem?

– About seven organized groups (called families) steal recycling as a big business. Police estimate families have income of $200,000 per year.  Exploitation of the workers doing the actual collecting is taking place as the families run illegal buyback businesses to buy the materials from homeless, etc.

– Families have keys for the locked bins/dumpsters and unlock them (burglary tool possession)

– In the past, families would drive large trucks around and pick up all the blue bins.  This resulted in trucks confiscated and curbed the theft of the entire blue bins.

– Recology claims a minimum of $5 million per year lost to recycling thieves.  This drives up the cost of collection since the materials offset the costs of recycling pickup. 50% of California redemption materials are taken from the bins.

– Goes on all night, loud noise, broken glass

– Scavengers mix up bins and residents can get fined for disorderly bins (confirmed by Recology).

– Bin key service protects waste management resources, but are paid-for by residents.

– Legitimate buyback businesses know that some of the materials they are buying are stolen and don’t follow the regulations


What Departments are doing:

–  Police Commander Mike Biel (oversees investigations bureau) used to go out at 4:00 am to investigate recycling theft.  This program has now ended.  He encourages watches to call this theft in, however they will be ‘C priority’ responses and the first offense is an infraction, all the way up to misdemeanors.  Vehicles can no longer be seized.

– Police are not enforcing individuals, they target the major offenders.

– Recology has paid for ‘special patrols’ for police enforcement over the past few decades.  It is a state law (41950 public resource code) and local ordinance (293.1 health code) for someone besides you to take material out of your waste bin. (AB2020 california state law says that any place that sells beverages and makes over $2 million has to have a buyback location within .5 miles)

– Recology claims the people who go though the bins are “poor little old ladies who are driving mercedes”

– Recology has list of licensee plates 14 pages long of vehicles involved in recycling theft

– Public works is responsible for maintenance of streets and sidewalks

– Jury pool is not likely to convict, judges are likely to dismiss as insignificant. District Attorney has prosecuted only one case, judge sentenced the offender to a $50 fine.


What residents can do: offers a form for reporting recycling theft.

– Stickers are available to put on your bin that say that bin theft is illegal (not likely to be effective).

– Commander Biel says you may contact the police station and request additional patrols.  He recommended against confrontations, but said photographs and license plates could be helpful.  He also says police don’t want to look like bullies and pick on the individuals.

Smartphone apps exist to take a picture and submit to 311 (illegal dumping, potholes, etc.)

– DA says letters to presiding judges are one avenue of influence, but likely would have no impact.

– Major recycling centers on Fredricks and Market St are under pressure to be shut down since they accept these stolen materials.  This is complicated by California state law.

– Buyback system may be inherently flawed? This would probably be a state problem.  California currently leads the nation in container return, state government is unlikely to change this.

– SAFE suggests a ‘working group’ to come up with suggestions to report back to the lager SAFE group in six months

– Contact Bob Besso at Recology if you have any ideas: (415) – 553 – 2407


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