Deterring individuals from reaping the financial benefits of stealing recyclables in San Mateo has prompted the city to create an ordinance to levy penalties against scavengers and help keep trash rates down for businesses and residents.
The city’s Public Works Commission will hear a proposal Wednesday to make anyone caught scavenging recyclables from a Recology bin subject to fines ranging from $100 to $500. If the proposed municipal code amendment is approved, it will be reviewed and voted on by the City Council.
Recology collects the recyclables and turns them over to the South Bayside Waste Management Agency, which helps market and sell the items like plastic bottles, cans and cardboard. That revenue ultimately translates to reduced costs for ratepayers, said Roxanne Murray, solid waste/recycling programs coordinator with the city’s Public Works Department.
Scavenging is a widespread nuisance that affects businesses and residents, Murray said.
“A lot of residents complain; people are concerned about people going through their bins. They leave debris on the ground, creating litter issues because they don’t put the lids back on … it degrades the quality of the neighborhood and on the commercial sector, we’re talking about a lot of lost revenue that would be used to offset the cost of garbage services,” Murray said.
Recology takes what it collects to the Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos through which plastic bottles and cans are redeemed through the state and other commodities like cardboard are sold, Murray said.
Cardboard can be recycled up to seven to 10 times and, although pricing fluctuates, it can currently be sold for $130 per ton, Murray said.
It’s difficult to analyze how much scavengers are stealing because they typically work late at night or early in the morning before Recology is allowed to make rounds, which start 4 a.m. in commercial sectors and 6 a.m. in residential areas.
However, Murray said she tracked activity at a shopping center at 20th Avenue and El Camino Real and determined scavengers could be taking nearly $29,000 worth of recyclables a year.
That money would have been passed to the ratepayers who deserve to benefit from their recycling, Murray said.
The SBWMA owns the Shoreway Environmental Center and manages the money earned from selling or redeeming recyclables, said Monica Devincenzi, recycling outreach and sustainability manager with the SBWMA.
The SBWMA is expected to take in $8.2 million in revenue from recyclables this year, which would offset approximately 8 percent of the total costs for services and programs, Devincenzi said.
Scavenging is a problem and the SBWMA has budgeted funds this fiscal year to work with a few agencies to develop enforcement programs as well, Devincenzi said.
When people scavenge in San Mateo, they’re breaking several codes such as operating at night or early morning during restricted hours, stealing and violating state law, Murray said. Although it’s currently illegal, enforcement has been problematic because it would require the city attorney to file charges.
If the ordinance passes, San Mateo police and code enforcement officers would be able to ticket scavengers $100 for the first offense, $200 for having two offenses in the same year and $500 for a third infraction within a year, according to a staff report.
For more information visit www.cityofsanmateo.org.
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