California Authorities Stepping Up Efforts To Combat Cardboard Thefts

While you’ve heard of people swiping copper pipes or hauling away scrap metal to trade it in for cold hard cash, perhaps not so familiar to many is the crime of stealing cardboard set out for recycling and trash collectors. In California, authorities are now trying to cut down on the thefts, which could end up costing residents and shopkeepers by way of higher collection rates.

“It’s big, big money — for somebody,” Steve Rivera, a senior investigator with the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s office who has been conducting sunrise surveillance to track, educate and cite the culprits told the Associated Press. “People don’t recognize the fact that it’s actually theft.”

Authorities are cracking down in the industrial suburbs east of Los Angeles at a time when peak cardboard prices is inspiring thieves to swipe valuable cardboard.

New York City has also fought such thefts in recent years, which can bring in anywhere from $100 to $200 per ton of cardboard.

The problem comes down to this: Waste haulers use the money they make from cashing in recyclables to offset the cost of collection. When they don’t make as much that way, they can push up rates for homeowners and businesses, experts say.

“Our industry loses millions of dollars a year due to cardboard,” said David Biderman, general counsel for the National Waste & Recycling Association. “One piece of cardboard by itself isn’t valuable. But customers often generate substantial volumes of it.”

It’s not illegal to collect cardboard left outside by a business or handed out by a shopkeeper for recycling under most state and local laws. But taking stuff from recycling bins left out at the curb is considered stealing from the local waste hauling company.

Officials in San Bernardino County have been citing offenders with misdemeanor petty theft, and have issued two citations so far. In that county, at least one waste collector is considering hiking its rates.

“We can’t absorb it completely as a company,” said the president of one company of the profits lost by the thefts. “If it continues, the return value of the material has to go down, and therefore it increases the cost of that recycling container.”

California authorities crack down on cardboard theft [Associated Press]