NEW YORK Scavengers who
illegally raid recyclables by the bagful from New York City
sidewalks could face much higher penaltiesand Sims Metal
Management Ltd. could reap the benefitsif a proposed law
The New York City Department of
Sanitation collects hundreds of thousands of tons of recyclable
material from city streets every year and sells it to Sims
Municipal Recycling, a subsidiary of Sims Metal Management. But
sanitation department officials and Sims Municipal Recycling
claim theyre not getting as much recyclable material as
they should be, resulting in tangible losses to the bottom
According to the sanitation
department and Sims, pilferers appear to be working with
criminal syndicates to steal significant quantities of
recyclablesincluding large items like refrigerators and
washing machinesoff the streets each day, reducing
Sims scrap supply and costing the city what it estimates
to be about $4 million to $6 million each year.
poorer New Yorkers or the unemployedcan legally collect
bottles and cans from sidewalks, its illegal when
recyclables are collected en masse and loaded into trucks and
vans, city sources told AMM.
"If youre somebody
whos just collecting bottles and cans, thats fine,"
deputy commissioner of sanitation Ron Gonen said. "But if
youre aggregating whats not yours and sticking it
in a truck, thats going to be a problem."
When Sims Municipal
Recyclings 20-year contract with the city began in 2009,
Sims collected about 19,500 tons of metal, glass, plastics and
miscellaneous garbage from the New York City Department of
Sanitation each month, sources told AMM, but that
volume has dropped to about 18,000 tons per month, apparently
due to the theft of recyclables rather than any reduction in
Sims general manager of
municipal recycling Tom Outerbridge told AMM that his
company loses around 2,000 tons, or about $400,000, each month
to thefts of ferrous scrap alone. About half of that is in the
form of large scrap items like refrigerators, washing machines
and swing sets, while the rest of it comprises smaller scrap
items like steel cans. At the same time, Sims said it is
collecting more miscellaneous garbage than ever before, keeping
its margins under pressure.
Sources said that drivers of
trucks or vans often with out-of-state license plates illegally
pick up large recyclable items left out for collection by the
city. Sometimes, they also pay individual street bottle and can
collectors for recyclables theyve gathered, paying a
lower rate compared to what theyd earn at a sanctioned
redemption center but giving them the advantage of a fast and
"What we suspect is going on is
that people are driving trucks into the city and then
collecting bottles and cans from people on the street, and then
bringing it back to trucks," Gonen said. "It is illegal, but
theres very little we can do."
"Theres the historic
peddler who might be going around with a shopping cart. But
what we have noticed a lot more is what I would consider
systematic organized scavenging, vehicle-assisted scavenging,"
Details are sketchy, but Sims
and city officials said that collectors often appear to work in
organized groups and sell their scrap to yards that may not
know the recyclables theyre buying are illegal.
Widespread scavenging like this
affects recyclers, scrap dealers and the environment alike,
Gonen said, and while most of it presumably ends up being
recycled, the city ends up losing track of products, including
environmentally problematic items that traditionally are
"The industry as a whole is also
losing because nobody knows how its being collected and
where its going," Gonen said.
Sims has urged the New York City
Council to implement a law that would deter scavengers. A bill
intended to do just that is now in the early stages of
discussion andif passedcould give the city a
tighter hold on recycling by allowing the sanitation department
to adopt its own rules regarding recycling removal.
According to Gonen, the
sanitation department wants to create a criminal penalty for
removing trash from commercial premises and require consent
between small building owners and trash removers. He declined
to discuss the language of the proposed bill further, noting
that it is still in the early stages.
Whatever form the bill finally
takes, however, it "enhances the departments ability to
enforce the law against persons who accept material that is
illegally removed from the curb without authorization," Gonen
told AMM in an e-mail.
The bill most likely will come
before the city council within the next month after the details
of the proposed law are hashed out, according to an aide to
council member Letitia James.