Recycling thieves target of crackdown in San Mateo County 

Modern-day pillagers who roam Peninsula streets swiping recyclable materials from residents’ curbside bins under the cover of darkness — and possibly adding to their garbage bills — are the target of a crackdown.

Taking recyclables from someone else’s bin is already illegal under state law, but that requires the district attorney to prosecute the case, which “isn’t really worth the DA’s time,” according to Foster City police Capt. Jon Froomin.

Beyond the nuisance it causes, scavenging cuts into the volume of commodities that the regional trash agency RethinkWaste receives and then sells to keep customers’ rates down, said agency spokeswoman Monica Devincenzi.

RethinkWaste, which recently started contracting with collection company Recology to service 92,000 households and 10,000 businesses between Burlingame and East Palo Alto, sold recyclables for an average of $180 per ton last year, generating roughly $8.7 million in revenue.

“If that material is not making it into our facility for us to sell it and get the revenues from it, then that directly impacts the rates,” Devincenzi said.

Redwood City already has a law on the books to crack down on the practice, and now Foster City is about to begin allowing police to hand out tickets to recycling scavengers.

“I think it’s a good move,” said Froomin. “It makes it easier for the officers to help out and it doesn’t overburden the district attorney’s office.”

Foster City’s law, which could go into effect as soon as mid-February, would make taking curbside recyclables an infraction punishable by a $100 ticket, followed by $200 for a second offense within a year and $500 for subsequent offenses.

Peninsula officials say it is difficult to quantify how prevalent scavenging is, though there are often reports of so-called “professional scavengers” — people with pickup trucks piled eight feet high. Froomin guessed
Foster City police get between 15 and 25 complaints per year.

Larry Patterson, public works director for San Mateo, said he hopes Recology’s new bins that allow residents to combine all recyclables will make it harder to scavenge.

Froomin said police will have an “educational period” for Foster City’s law — similar to an ordinance Redwood City approved in 2009 — before they start handing out tickets.

“The fine is reasonable,” he said. “It’s meant to be a deterrent for people to come out and do it again.”

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Shaun Bishop

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