Recycling or blue box scavengers are individuals who take recyclable material without authorization from curbside or recycling receptacles before they can be picked up by for pickup by authorized recycling collection service providers. Given that blue box scavengers take material without permission, there is a negative connotation about scavenging activities, which many communities have banned.However, the issue is complex, and its role in supporting the poor and landfill diversion must also be considered.
Reasons for Banning Blue Box Scavenging
- Perusal of discarded personal and financial documents increases risk of identity theft
- Loss of high value items such as aluminum cans or appliances reducs recycling revenue, increasing burden of collection costs on taxpayers
- Scavengers may leave a mess after going through the blue box
- Scavengers may be “casing” the street for other items to steal
- Scavenging is a potential "gateway" crime, and may lead to the theft of more valuable items.
Scavenging and Poverty
There is an argument put forth that banning blue box scavenging targets the poor and a ready source of income to them. Additionally, this unauthorized activity helps divert material from landfills. Others counter that this line of thought legitimizes the theft of private property and compromises the efficiency of formal collection programs at an overall cost to society.
A Place for Scavenging
Although the term “scavenging” comes with negative connotations, scavenging can play a valuable role for society. Scavenging, according to dictionary.com, refers to the capturing of usable material among discarded items. The question of ownership is an important consideration. If the valuable recyclable material has clearly been abandoned in a public place, or if the scavenger has been authorized by the owner to remove it, then a valuable service is potentially being provided.
For example, empty pallets left on the shoulder of the highway by a trucker who does not need them may constitute a hazard that is quickly remedied by a pallet scavenger (known as a pallet picker) taking them away to sell to a pallet recycling company. Likewise, a business may have stacks of unsightly pallets or other salvageable material in its yard. If the scavenger receives permission from the owner to take this material away, then a valuable service is being performed.