While recycling is vitally important activity to society, theft of recyclables can threaten the viability of legitimate recycling programs.
Case in point is the outbreak in curbside appliance theft in New York City. According to a New York Times story, 22,741 New Yorkers have contacted the city's Department of Sanitation in recent months to arrange for the pickup of refrigerators, air-conditioners and freezers, but in more than 11,000 instances, the machines vanished before sanitation workers could arrive to pick them up.
The shortfall equates to 1,000 to 1,500 tons of material per month. The recycling contract holder, Sims Municipal Recycling of New York L.L.C., believes that the thefts, in conjunction with other issues, are costing it $2 million to $4 million a year.
Some officials suggest organized crime may be responsible for surge in appliance theft, with the FBI indicating that in recent years, the mob has shown a renewed craving for scrap.
Urban scavenging is a time honored practice, and legitimately serves a purpose to society in the removal and recycling of discarded items. When unauthorized scavenging diverts valuable material from established recycling programs, however, it can threaten the economics of their continued viability. The cost of pickup is increased by the unproductive stops, while overall revenues needed to subsidize recycling programs shrink.
An important first step in correcting the problem is raising awareness of the problem with both the public and policing authorities that unauthorized removal is property theft. In New York, increased enforcement has resulted in the seizure of 270 vehicles this year to December 1, but given budgetary restrictions, enforcement will remain a challenge.
More fundamentally, do you think this illegal recycling is a problem, and if so, how should the city respond? Responses to the article from over 230 New York Times readers have been decidedly mixed.