Recycle Bin Divers in San Carlos: An Annoyance or a Crime?

April 15, 2009

Someone is rummaging through your recycle bins…

Whether you know it or not, when you put your recycle bins out at the curb every other week, someone is very likely helping themselves to anything of value in those bins before the Allied Waste truck arrives.   You may have seen or heard them rummaging through the bottles and cans, usually after dark or early in the morning before the  truck arrives.     The most desirable items seem to be aluminum cans and plastic water bottles that have a California Redemption Value (CRV).

Looking the other way.

This isn't something new.   I noticed that this was happening quite a few months ago.   The people who were toting garbage bags and sorting through the bins seemed to be less fortunate families trying to get some extra cash to make ends meet, and they were very considerate not to make a mess — so it was no big deal.   Like many of my neighbors, we were more than happy to look the other way.    And why not?  If we willingly put money out by the curb every other week, shouldn't somebody be able to take it?

Why not?

The answer to this question is that it's not legal. According to San Carlos Police, once the stuff is put into an Allied Waste bin and placed out at the curb, it belongs to Allied Waste.  If someone decides to help themselves to your bin, they're technically stealing from AW.    When they catch people sifting through recycle bins, they'll cite them on the spot.

There's also the issue of privacy.   While most of these people seem to focus on bottles and cans, what about paper products?  We recycle everything, including newspapers, junk mail, and yes…bills.  We try to shred anything that might have confidential information, but you have to wonder what kind of confidential information can be gleaned from junk mail.

Finally, with the recent uptick in crime and vandalism in San Carlos, I imagine some residents aren't too comfortable having anyone they don't know on their property, especially after dark or early in the morning.

The Solution…

The first time I came out one morning and found my recyclables scattered all over the sidewalk, I decided enough was enough.   Now, I'm not such an ogre that I would call the police on these people, but this got me thinking that if someone was willing to stand out in the rain and collect cans and bottles, there is probably some decent money in it.

Our solution was to turn this into a recycling lesson and a money making venture for our kids.   Basically, they sort the goods, they keep the profits.    A month's worth of CRV's around our household is about $40, which is a gold-mine for a 12-year old.

What are your thoughts?

Is this a problem in your neighborhood?   Should the City be cracking down on people sorting through your bins, or should we just look the other way?  I'd love hear what you think — just click on the comment link below…


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  1. KR on April 15, 2009 at 10:50 pm

    It could be more trouble than it’s worth, but it might be worth having recycling drops at San Carlos schools. That way the CRVs from cans and bottles brought in by parents could help bridge the funding gap. Like I said, it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth, but maybe it generates a couple of thousand per month per school.

  2. BA Mom on April 16, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    KR has a great idea, and whilst I don’t think it’s more trouble than it’s worth to the parents, the only issue I see is the infrastructure needed to house all those cans and bottles for two weeks at a time.

    Maybe A/W could come up with something…

  3. Chuck on April 16, 2009 at 3:39 pm

    Actually, it’s not as bad as you might think. What we do is to take three separate bags (39 gallon lawn and leaf bags) and designate one for aluminum cans, the second for HDPE 2 (plastic milk containers and large spring water dispensers) and the third is your bulk CRV (Arrowhead, Gatorade…any thing plastic that specifically states “CRV” on it.) It takes as good month or so to fill these bags up, and when they’re full, just tie them off and take them down to the old BFI recycling facility. Since you have already sorted them, you’ll be in and out pretty quick.

    Glass bottles are a bit different because of the weight involved. We use an plastic garbage can and it works fine. Again, we assigned this whole project to our 13-year old to manage so his motivation is to get the profit.

    Thanks for your comment….


  4. Kimberley S on April 16, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of these car burglaries coincide with trash night in that neighborhood. I think the cans and bottles have become an attractive nuisance.

  5. Della on April 16, 2009 at 11:14 pm

    The big problem with removing the only profitable portion of recycling from our curbside recycling programs is that sooner than later it will become too expensive for Allied and others to keep providing recycling services for the big items like paper and yard waste if they are not able to subsidize it with the money they make from cans and bottles.

    While it sounds great to move this profit to the needy or to the schools, in reality it will just make our garbage costs increase. I think we are doing our environment a dis-service by not teaching our kids to recycle as much as possible — and the way to fund it is to make it profitable or at least break-even for the existing garbage companies.

  6. EMPLOYEE on December 11, 2009 at 3:08 am

    i work as a residential recycle truck driver servicing homes for a garbage company here in the bay area and just to let everybody know, and to make this clear, aluminum glass and plastics is money that the city makes, we are contracted by the city to pick up this recycle, and the city makes the money from it! A way that we do get paid for this collection is when trucks get broke down, the city pays for the fixes…..but our main income comes from the garbage. So when you see these people “stealing” the recycle they are stealing from the city.
    I was servicing a neighborhood when a lady came out of her house outraged, and i asked her, “ma’am whats seems to be the problem?” last night i heard my recycle being taken and this morning i got to my car to warm it up before going to work and my gas cap was on the ground!… How does it make you feel to know that theres somebody in the middle of the night going around and stealing not only recycle but other things that belong to you…that needs to be put to a stop i think!

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