One man's garbage is another's gold

Hello, fellow crime fighters of the Marina! During recent community meetings that I have attended, I was surprised, given all of the different crimes that can occur, that a great deal of time was spent talking about curbside recycling theft. This article will cover the theft of curbside recyclables.

It is illegal to remove recyclables from the garbage bins in San Francisco. Specifically, the Municipal Health Code makes it illegal for “any person other than an authorized City employee or person authorized by the City curbside recycling program to take, remove, move, or otherwise appropriate a recycling container or the items inside including cans, bottles and cardboard.” A conviction for a first infraction carries a fine of up to $250. I encourage you to call if you see or hear pirate recyclers in your neighborhood (415-553-0123 for a nonemergency, or call 911 if they appear to be up to more suspicious criminal activity). There are even a few of these pirate groups of recyclers reputed to be making six-figure amounts for their efforts.

In the past I have written about “opportunists,” those being the criminal element that walk or drive our neighborhoods looking to see what they can get. They check open doors and windows, look into parked cars, etc. They look for lone people walking along that are completely engrossed in something else, causing them to be unaware of their surroundings. Some recycling thieves are opportunists as well, using the collection of our bottles and cans as a ruse to be in our neighborhood. They don’t want your recyclables; they want more valuable items like computers, GPS devices, iStuff, small electronic devices, etc. But the appearance is that they are merely there for the recycling.

At the last community meeting I attended, I suggested that people not put their recycling out before 6 a.m. of their scheduled pickup day. This led to some debate. It also led to a lengthy discussion about the different types of locking mechanisms and keys that are available to keep unauthorized persons out of the cans. Each one had a greater cost, and locks break and keys get lost. One resident told me that she was so fed up with the thieves that she “bit the bullet” and now puts her recyclables out on the morning of pickup and has not had a problem since. I view it as a simple solution, and if recycling theft were affecting my quality of life, I would get up the morning of my pickup day and put the items out (and I am not a morning person). Most of these bandit recyclers travel under cover of darkness; they steal the items after residents put them out and go to bed. I argue that if you and all of your neighbors put the cans out the morning of pickup, the bottle and can pirates will discontinue coming to your neighborhood. It may take some time to train them that there are no recyclables on your block for the taking, but simple economic law applies: no supply, no demand.

If you want to receive Northern Station’s weekly newsletter, e-mail You can also follow Northern Station on Twitter at /northernstation.