Recycling theft to be studied by supervisors 

Hundreds of people drive around San Francisco stealing cardboard, bottles and other recyclables to sell at scrap yards — an underground industry that yields  complaints about noise, trespassing and litter.

For Recology, the company hired by The City to pick up garbage and recycling, it also means the loss of up to $5 million in revenue annuallyannually, which otherwise could be used to help pay for the recycling service.

After receiving complaints from residents in her district, Supervisor Christina Olague has requested a hearing to examine the impacts of this scavenging and address solutions to prevent it.

“Residents are concerned about a lot of scavenging going on in the district creating a public safety issue but also litter on the streets,” she said.

The problem is not new, nor is it unique to San Francisco. It’s something that Recology and The City have attempted to curb. But the poachers persist.

City law makes it illegal for anyone to “take, remove, move, or otherwise appropriate” a recycling bins or items inside, like cans, bottles and cardboard.

There is a fine of up to $500 and six months in jail.

Back in 2010, the District Attorney’s Office suggested ways to help, such as by placing recyclables at the curb by 6 a.m. on the day of trash pick up instead of the night before.

But some people rely on this illegal behavior to dispose of recycling material. In 2008, the Department of Public Works was forced to tell businesses to stop leaving cardboard out on the streets. Businesses had become accustomed to putting out their cardboard even when they didn’t have scheduled trash pick up. But when the price of the commodity dropped from more than $150 per ton to $35, the illegal haulers stopped picking up the product and The City was left with cardboard lying around.  

The hearing should take place in April before the board’s City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee.

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