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California thieves steal plastic to recycle in $5 million/year industry!

Southern California is seeing a boom in thefts of milk crates, pallets, and other easy-to-steal plastic items that can be chopped up and sold to recycling centers. According to Sunday’s Orange County Register, the thefts amount to about $5 million/year!

The Orange County Register says:

Businesses, including grocery stores and restaurants, receive products in plastic containers, usually in the form of crates and pallets, and then leave the materials outside, which can easily be stolen, said Sgt. Nabeel Mitry, the head of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Industrial Plastic Theft Task Force.

The plastics task force, which is funded by the City of Industry, has exposed at least 50 underground recycling operations since forming in September 2011. On Jan. 2, the task force recovered $115,000 of company-owned plastics from El Monte and Lynwood.

Locally, the task force raided a recycling operation at SoCal Plastics in Anaheim in July of last year, which led to the arrest of four people, including owner Hector Palacios, and the recovery of $450,000 of stolen plastics, Mitry said.

The task force is the only program of its kind in the United States, Mitry said.

The average price of a plastic shipping pallet is $75, and local dairy Rockview Farms pays around $3.50 to replace its stolen milk crates.

Thieves run their stolen plastic items through a machine that resembles a wood chipper. After that, the item and its former owner both become unrecognizable.

The plastic-theft task force investigates local plastic businesses like SoCal Plastics in Anaheim and Broadway Plastics, another one of the locations raided in the Jan. 2 bust.

“Often times, (the business) is a cover up,” Mitry said. “Ninety percent of what they’re doing is illegal.”

The task force has recovered about $7 million in plastic and has made 60 arrests for possession of stolen property.

California recently passed Assembly Bill 1583 which prohibits redemption of pallets for cash by recyclers, but the problem remains.

“These plastics are easier to steal under law enforcement’s nose,” Mitry said. “The average street cop could see it and not really realize it’s a crime.”

-Bill at

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