Illegal scavenging of trash containers seems to be worsening across the nation, says the San Diego Union-Tribune. The trend is difficult to quantify, because most stolen recyclables are brought to scrap yards and recycling businesses that pay cash and don’t ask for personal identification. Recycling experts said a weak economy and sky-high prices for scrap metal have turned curbside containers into gold mines for everyone from the homeless to quasi-professional thieves, who sweep through neighborhoods with crews and large vehicles. Over five years, the price for scrap aluminum has roughly doubled to nearly $2,000 a ton, while the price for No. 1 plastic – used to make most types of water bottles – has nearly tripled to about $400 a ton.
Throughout San Diego County and elsewhere, it’s illegal to take objects from curbside trash and recycling containers. The rules are meant to protect public health and the revenues of companies or agencies handling waste collection. When waste and recyclables are set at the curb, they generally become the property of the city or designated hauler. Waste officials have asked the state lgislature to pass stronger anti-scavenging measures. In August, the legislature passed a bill that would require scrap yards and recyclers to demand identification and pay only by check for large deposits of recyclables such as cans and newspapers. The idea is to create a paper trail as a deterrent to “organized crime rings,” said aspokesman for Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, who wrote the measure.