Dumpster diving for recyclables: Making extra cash vs. privacy concerns

What to do if you're concerned about people digging through your recycle bin. And is it even legal?

Recycle Bin Divers Concern Homeowners

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - As he hauls his blue bin to the curb, Palm Springs resident Barry Noble knows the recycle bin divers will be back soon.   

"They're in vans, old pickup trucks. We have a couple here that frequents this tract," said Noble.  He adds the scavengers leaf through everything leaving little of value for the authorized pick up company.  

"How much do they get when they finally get there, because the cans, the glass-- everything is all gone," said Noble.

State law requires California cities to divert half their trash away from rapidly filling landfills.  Local cities are meeting that 2000 goal and then some, but the drive to recycle also comes with a price.

Neighbors talk about scavengers.  Some are okay with it, but Noble doesn't like his privacy being invaded curbside.   He's not alone.

"Yeah, yeah.  It's a fairly common complaint," said Chris Cunningham, spokesperson for Palm Springs Disposal and Desert Valley Disposal Services.  

He said raiding blue bins is illegal.  "Anything that's in our bins or containers from the customers put out on the curb is essentially our property when it gets out to the curb," Cunningham said.

Most aluminum, glass and plastic beverage containers are eligible for California Redemption Value refunds.   Recyclers can earn 5 cents for a beverage container less than 24-ounces, and 10 cents for a container 24-ounces or more.   It can add up fast.

Cunningham said, "We had a big problem in south Palm Springs where we had a big group going around with matching bags and bikes."  But Cunningham said the company generally doesn't do much about blue bin theft unless customers complain.  In the big scheme of things, dumpster diving is a low priority offense for the company and the police.
Steve Grant is homeless and spends his days collecting plastic and aluminum cans around town, but not bottles.

They're too heavy.  They're not worth the effort," he said as he cruised through a Palm Springs park.  He frequents many neighborhoods.  "I'll do hit miss here and there.  I'll just cruise through," said Grant.     "Apartments, gas stations and motels.  That's pretty much what I do unless it's blue bin night."

Blue bin night is well known for those out to earn some extra cash.  "Everybody sets out their blue bins, said Grant.  "You've got the north end, then you have Smoke Tree area.  You've got like four or five districts."

Californians purchased more than 20 billion CRV eligible drinks in 2011.  More than 16.7 billion were recycled and kept from landfills while saving natural resources and conserving energy.

Recycling a load of cans and bottles will earn Grant $20 to $25.   The cash he pockets from load of recyclables helps him pay his bills including a late fee on a storage payment and court fines.

Money from recycling also helps cities cover the operational costs of diverting waste from landfills.  Collection companies however generally don't do anything about dumpster divers unless they get complaints.  

So like Noble, and others we've heard from, what can you do if you're concerned about your privacy?

Cunningham said, "What we usually tell them is to call the police department's non emergency line or to call code enforcement the complaint department." 

Code enforcement may be your best bet.  Give them your area, recycling container pick-up day and any suspect description you can provide including what time scavengers tend to visit.  That way authorities have the best chance of finding the people responsible and stopping any abuses.

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