Scavengers cash in on illegal recycling around SF

February 9, 2011 7:05:37 PM PST
San Francisco lawmakers opened the debate on Wednesday over who should get the city's lucrative recycling contract. Trash is big business, but it's also a source of income for some and it's not always legal.

It's the night before trash pickup in SoMa and the recycling bins are being raided. Rikki Ercoli sent us uReport video he filmed earlier this month, and it infuriates him to see people taking recyclables from his bin.

"Here in San Francisco, we love recycling. I know I do, but 100 percent of my efforts are going directly into the hands of people I'm not doing the work for. If it was going to the city, great, but it's not," he said.

In fact, fewer bottles and cans for the Recology Company to pickup and sell is said to ultimately cost consumers about $5 million a year. Much of that theft comes from organized rings, and Ercoli said trucks pick up the ripped off recyclables on his block.

"So it affects increases in your garbage bill in future years. If that material is stolen, the money is stolen with it," Robert Reed from Recology said.

Stealing recyclables is illegal and state and local penalties are as much as $2,000. The District Attorney's Office recently put out a newsletter calling it, "The issue of the month." For many neighborhoods, it's a quality of life issue with noise and litter. One strategy being discussed is reducing the cash incentive and Supervisor Scott Wiener is considering pushing for a change in state law to require recycling centers to offer vouchers for food and other products instead of money.

"We've seen in the areas around some recycling centers some issues around alcohol abuse and drug dealing," he said.

Ed Dunn runs a recycling center and is critical of the proposal to swap cash for food.

"The vast majority are very middle class people who might want to use the money for rent or to fill up their tank again," he said.

The voucher program would be a change in state law, so Wiener wants to make sure he has enough support before he moves forward with that.

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