Photo by Flickr user waltarrrrr/ Creative Commons
Photo by Flickr user waltarrrrr/ Creative Commons
Photo by Flickr user waltarrrrr/ Creative Commons

Wednesday is trash collection day in my little corner of Boyle Heights, and every week, I face the same daunting situation. I look out my front door or window and find a stranger half-buried inside my blue recycle bin sifting through my trash.

We have all seen them as they prowl the night, and sometimes the day, pulling out bottles, aluminum cans, plastics; anything of value.

I have often wondered why it bothers me so much to have strangers rummage through my trash.   Something about it makes me feel like they’re invading my privacy.

The Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation operates the largest curbside recycling program in the United States, born from California Assembly Bill 939, in 1989. Residents are provided with blue recycle bins in an effort to raise revenue and help conserve the environment.

Read: Trash picking to pay rent in LA

In a March 2009 Municipal Recycling Survey, the city ranked as the No. 1 top recycler among the 10 most populous cities in the country.

It was a program whose time had come.

As good as the city’s recycling program is, it’s being compromised collection day scavengers.

In recent years, I have been waiting until morning to put my recycle bin on the curb because of my aversion to the rampant scavenging that takes place in my neighborhood on Tuesday nights.

The problem with this practice is that curbside pick-up times seem to be random.  Sometimes the recycle truck comes early, sometimes it comes late.

At about 11 a.m., last Wednesday, a lone male came through my neighborhood and zeroed in on my recycle bin.

Not only was he pulling out my recyclables, but he was neatly lining up his cache for all the neighborhood to see.

“Something must be done,” I thought.

Blue bin scavenging is illegal in L.A.   It is punishable with a $500 fine and/or six months in jail, but I’ve yet to see anyone stopped by police.

Maybe we should model after the City of Anaheim, which implemented an anti-scavenging program in 1994 to help protect revenues.

Its anti-scavenging team not only responds to resident complaints, but also patrols its communities to help prevent this type of theft.

The city also suggests that residents keep their recycle bins behind fences, putting valuable recyclables in the bottom of the bins and to wait until 7 a.m. on collection day to place their bins curbside.

Much has been written on this subject in the past, and usually from the perspective that these people are simply trying to survive in a poor economy.

It has been said that most recycle bin scavengers are homeless and in dire need of a money, but those I’ve run into are not homeless people.

I would feel much better if it were indeed the homeless who were engaged in this practice.   At least it could be argued that they are doing it to survive and there is nothing wrong with that.

Many of these people are simply taking advantage of the system and stealing from the city.

It is time for Los Angeles to do something about this problem.
Share your thoughts
Do you feel a better anti-scavening program should be developed in L.A.?

Gus Ugalde is a print journalist and Boyle Heights native. He is a graduate of both Salesian High School and East Los Angeles College. With writing as his passion, he has had over 500 stories published...

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