Calif. Town Cracks Down on ‘Illegal’ Recycling

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Trash and recycling bins are a goldmine for "illegal recyclers" in Concord, Calif. Photo: Cindy Baldhoff
Trash and recycling bins are a goldmine for “illegal recyclers” in Concord, Calif. Photo: Cindy Baldhoff

Dumpster divers are no longer just rooting through the trash for identity documents and other goodies — now, they’re stealing the recyclables, too.

Police in Concord, Calif., have started cracking down on what they call “illegal recyclers” who root through trash receptacles in search of recyclables. What’s more surprising is that these aren’t isolated incidents; they are often the work of organized groups that have designated specific “territories.” They’re even so well organized that they use color-coded plastic bags to keep track of which thief the stolen recyclables belong to.

Illegal recyclers often come from outside the city, which is located about 30 miles east of San Francisco. One man told police he rides the bus from nearby Pittsburg, Calif., to fill his bag with aluminum cans and plastic bottles found in Dumpsters and trash cans, then cashes them in at the local recycling center before catching the bus back home. In addition to bottles and cans, cardboard is targeted by the thieves.

According to a statement released by code enforcement officials, profits can range from “a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars per week, per person.”

The city’s concern goes beyond the fact that thieves who rummage through trash cans are an annoyance; it also could affect the city financially. California’s passage of the Integrated Waste Management Act in 1989 requires that cities recycle at least 50 percent of their waste, and those that fail to meet those state requirements miss out on financial credits. Thieves are reducing the ratio of recycled items accounted for in the city’s overall garbage haul, which could jeopardize Concord meeting the state-mandated recycling goals.

Police are now considering issuing citations to people caught stealing from trash bins and have even established a theft hotline. The amount of the fine has not yet been announced.