College Station isn't the only city trying to stop thefts of recyclables. Several U.S. cities have been hit hard by thieves looking to cash in on the suddenly-lucrative recycling market.
With prices for aluminum, cardboard and newsprint going up and an economic slowdown putting added pressure on people's pocketbooks, curbside refuse has become a hot commodity.
In some cities, a truck piled high with mixed recyclables can fetch upward of $1,000; newspapers alone can grab about $600.
"These guys are becoming much more organized and much more prevalent," said Robert Reed, a spokesman for Norcal Waste Systems Inc., a garbage and recycling company in San Francisco and other cities throughout Northern California. "This has nothing to do with the lone homeless man picking up cans. We're seeing organized fleets of professional poachers with trucks."
The issue has caught the attention of state and local officials, who are seeking more stringent regulations to curb theft, saying lost revenue threatens the financial viability of their recycling programs.
Pilfering cans, bottles and other recyclables from bins is already illegal in many places, including San Francisco and New York City. In San Francisco poachers can be fined up to $500 and get six months jail time. In New York, thieves are subject to arrest, vehicle impoundment and fines of up to $5,000.
California lawmakers are also considering legislation that would make large-scale, anonymous recycling more difficult by forcing scrap and paper recyclers to require picture identification for anyone bringing in more than $50 worth of cans, bottles or newspapers and to pay such individuals with checks rather than cash.
In Westchester County, New York, a proposal would make large-scale curbside recycling theft punishable by time behind bars and fines of up to $2,000.
Companies are also taking measures of their own. Norcal Waste contracted private investigators and installed surveillance cameras at San Francisco spots frequented by poachers. The investigators compiled dozens of photographs of old pickup trucks covered by spray-painted graffiti and piled high with recyclables allegedly stolen from residents.
The free weekly, The East Bay Express, which covers Oakland, Berkeley and other Bay Area cities, hired an ex-police detective to stake out thieves and began retrofitting curbside newspaper racks to make them theft-resistant because thousands of fresh copies go missing some weeks. "We don't want to be spending all our energy printing papers that people take directly to the recyclers," said Hal Brody, the paper's president.
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