People Taking Recycling from Blue Bins: Thieves or Helpful?

Should you do anything if you see people going through your blue recycling bins?

CTN received the following note last week “one more Monday I see one of these guys who drives around the Palisades (here, on Via) going through blue recycling bins set out for pickup and I’m wondering if we care that they take from the bins.

“A friend told me once that it’s bad because the city’s recycling program only makes sense if it receives those valuable recyclables, but I don’t really know if that’s true. It’s kind of unnerving to see these guys going through our trash but I just don’t know if we should care.  Do you have any information/insights?”

How efficient is the recycling program in Los Angeles? On the L.A. Sanitation website, it speaks about recycling contamination, which means that if non-recyclable materials are placed in the blue recycling bin, it prevents the entire collect load from being recycled properly.

CTN reached out to Department of Public Works Public Information Director Elena Stern on October 21, to ask about contamination rates and recycling costs.

She responded on October 27, “Waste characterization assessments are conducted every four months at the Material Recover Facilities (MRFs)” and sent the following table (EV-East Valley, WV-West Valley, Harbor, NC-North Central, SLA-South L.A. and WLA-West LA.)

Even though West Los Angeles has the least contamination rates, at about 22.85%, it still means about a quarter of this area’s recyclable bin contents goes to landfill.

Regarding the revenue from the sale of recyclables, Stern wrote “In the past, we benefited from the sale of recyclable materials, receiving annual revenue of about $6 million through checks from our MRF contractors.

“However, the implementation of China’s 2017 national sword policy, which limited the import of certain recyclables, brought significant changes to this program,” Stern said, noting that the program went from revenue-generating, to one that incurs expenses.

“In FY 22-23, we incurred expenses of $14.5 million in tip fees for the processing of the residential recyclables and then in FY 23-24, our tip fee expenditures is expected to reach $18.5 million.”

Stern said that the cost of processing recyclables (plastic bottles, metal cans, paper products, etc.), now exceeds the blended market value of these commodities.

(Editor’s note: To stop people from going through this editor’s bin, a small blue one had been ordered, and only bottles and cans placed in it. Once it’s full, it goes to the curb. The people who go through blue bins have learned that in front of my address, it’s only the small bin that has anything they might want.)

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2 Responses to People Taking Recycling from Blue Bins: Thieves or Helpful?

  1. Paula H Deats says:

    Thank you, Editor, for teaching us (by example) to be inventive instead of lazy about our “problems”. AND creating a small but rare “win-win-win”! (The latter win is for Athens, who – working for profit and benefiting the environment at the same time – won’t have to sort twice, by hand, through recycling for the “good stuff”.) There are many times when your writing opens new eyes in me. Thanks.

  2. Nancy Brennan says:

    They are still stealing from those City designated cans. They will even take a bin to put those items in, leaving the intended household to get another. That costs!

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