CONCORD -- There is an old saw "one man's trash is another man's treasure," which most people interpret as meaning if it's in the trash can, then it's up for grabs.
Not so. Taking trash from curbside garbage or recycle bins is theft, and the city of Concord has partnered with Concord Disposal Service to educate the public on this rising crime and its costs to the city, and then to expand its written citations and, if necessary, arrests.
"We are all about giving people fair warning," said Cpl. Patrick Murray of the Concord Police Department's code enforcement unit. "People don't know it's illegal to take recyclables out of cans."
But the rubbish bins are not the public's domain. They are the property of Concord Disposal Service, and that recyclable trash is providing a profit -- a percentage of which goes into the city coffers -- and a means for the company to keep collection costs to its customers down.
The continued thefts could also prevent the city from meeting state-mandated recycling goals. The new goals released in May 2012 by CalRecycle require "that not less than 75 percent of the solid waste generated be source-reduced, recycled or composted by 2020."
So the city is asking residents to help stop the thefts that have grown beyond the opportunistic crime of odd cans taken by passers-by to organized crime.
"Many residents may not be aware that the thieves are very well organized," Murray said. "Profits range from a couple hundred dollars to a couple thousand dollars per week, per person."
He said the thieves "have designated territories so as not to run afoul of each other. They use different colored plastic bags to identify whose illegal haul belongs to whom."
Recycling theft prevention specialist Isidro Llanos, whose $25 an hour position is being funded by Concord Disposal Service, has been working the last several months to educate the residential and business community of the problem and how to prevent it.
"Many illegal recyclers come to Concord from other cities," he said. "One man contacted a few weeks ago admitted he rides the bus to Concord from Pittsburg, fills his bags with aluminum cans and plastic bottles, then cashes in at the local recycling center before riding the bus back home."
Llanos said bottles and cans are not the only recycling theft causing concern. Thieves are targeting businesses stealing large quantities of cardboard from unlocked Dumpsters.
"In some cases, high-volume merchants compress their cardboard into large balls and leave the balls on their loading docks for pickup," Llanos explained. "Thieves have been ingenious in conceiving ways to move the half-ton balls onto their pickup trucks. Each pickup load of flat cardboard can fetch up to several hundred dollars at a recycling center."
Murray said when spotted, police will confiscate all cardboard, write a citation or make an arrest, and in some instances the vehicle can be impounded.
Stealing recyclables is not contained to businesses or a few residential areas. Murray said the problem is citywide.
He also said people should not only be concerned that bottles, cans and cardboard are being taken from their trash, they should realize someone rummaging through garbage can find information to be used in identity theft.
As part of the program, Llanos is providing community outreach and education to interested business managers and homeowner groups to explain the problems and how to deal with them, including reporting the crime.
If a theft is in progress, call the police department or Concord Disposal Service. Thefts can also be reported online. If possible, police ask the reporting party to have the following information: license plate number and vehicle description if a vehicle involved; description of the person or persons involved, and the time the theft occurred.
Business/Homeowner Presentations: Call recycling theft prevention specialist Isidro Llanos at 925-671-3130
Report Thefts: Concord Disposal Service hotline 925-671-3100 or online at www.concorddisposal.com