Model legislation aimed at reducing theft

When signed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the State of California will have established a legislative precedent that other states could follow to help reduce the thefts of recyclables from the curbside.

On August 8, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved AB 1778, a bill authored and championed by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco) to halt the growing theft of recyclables such as paper, aluminum cans and bottles across the state by professional and organized poaching rings.

AB 1778 narrowly cleared the State Assembly Floor in July with bipartisan support. The bill was voted on by the full Senate on August 14 and did not receive the necessary votes. However, it was granted reconsideration.

The reconsideration vote took place on August 22 and passed by a 21-16 vote. To a certain extent the vote followed party lines, with 17 Democrats and 4 Republicans voting in favor and 11 Republicans and 5 Democrats voting against it. Three Democratic senators did not vote.

—Fiona Ma

“These recycling raiders must be brought out from the shadows,” said Ma following the vote. “With the price of recycled materials on the rise, recycling theft has become a lucrative business. I am hopeful that this bill, which is so important to improving recycling programs, will be signed by the Governor.”

If signed by the Governor, the law would take effect on January 1, 2009.

Ma provided amendments to address some of the privacy and identification concerns. This led to the removal of requiring sellers to present a California driver’s license or any state-issued identification to recyclers and scrap dealers.

Thefts are occurring at the curbside level, as well as newsstands and racks where free papers are left for distribution to the public.

The hope is that AB 1778 will deter theft by placing modest requirements on recyclers who currently engage in large, cash transactions for aluminum cans, plastic and glass bottles, and newspaper.

The bill requires recyclers to obtain identifying information of individuals who bring in more than $100 worth of CRV (California Refund Value) recyclables and more than $50 worth of newspapers.

“AB 1778 will provide a paper trail for law enforcement to use during investigations by establishing certain requirements in CRV transactions over $100,” said Ma. “Specifically, the bill requires a recycler to obtain certain identifying information and to make a payment by check. The bill exempts businesses from the bill’s provisions when the recycler has identifying information on file. It also allows supermarket recycling centers and certain non-profit recyclers to pay by a voucher rather than a check, but that voucher will still create the necessary paper trail since it would be linked to the specific transaction.”

The bill does not apply in jurisdictions that do not have curbside recycling.

In order to meet the $100 threshold amount, a person would have to bring in the following amount of containers: 68 lbs. of aluminum (over 2,200 cans); 130 lbs. of plastic; or 1,220 lbs. of glass. It is estimated that 840 lbs. of newspaper has a recycle value of $50.

Some of the recycling companies opposed elements of the record keeping requirements, but Ma also had strong support - representatives from local recycler Norcal Waste Systems and the California Newspaper Publishers Association joined the Assemblywoman in committee hearings to support the bill.

In California – a bottle bill state, the Department of Conservation, Division of Recycling, administers the California Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act enacted in 1986. The primary goal of the Act is to achieve and maintain high recycling rates for each beverage container type included in the program.

Consumers pay a CRV when they purchase beverages from a retailer, which is refunded when they redeem the containers at a recycling center.

“The loss of CRV recyclables through theft can also lead to increased costs to ratepayers,” said Ma. “When a trash hauler signs a contract with a local government, the rates are set with the consideration that the hauler will receive a certain percentage of revenue based on recycled CRV containers. When these containers are routinely stolen from curbside bins, the hauler will be forced to raise ratepayer rates when a new contract is issued. In addition, police resources are stretched thin in many areas of the state and local police have higher priorities.”

Because the theft of bottles, cans and newspaper is an illegal activity, the money earned from these activities goes directly into the underground economy. There are hopes that AB 1778 will help put a dent in the state’s underground economy and lead to increase government revenues as payments to individuals could be tracked and taxed.