SCHENECTADY : Trash-pickers scrounging up city profi ts
Sellable materials being stripped from curbside items
At the one time when the city can actually make money on garbage, scavengers are snatching up the profits before trash collectors get to the curb, city offi cials say.
Due to the skyrocketing price of metal, the city can sell its recyclables, mainly for the value of the copper in old electronics. But trach pickers can sell that metal, too, and they are now roving the streets in pickup trucks to grab waste as soon as it is hauled to the curb.
“In Bellevue, we have two garbage collection days: the day the city collects it, and the day before, when the people with their pickup trucks come through,” said resident Joseph Pallotolo, who is also the vice president of administration at Colt Recycling. “They’re very bold.”
An enterprising scavenger recently grabbed old televisions, took out all of the metal, put the frames back together and put the junk out on the curb — where city workers innocently picked up the televisions and then sent them to Colt Recycling.
The company was left holding the bag on what should have been a valuable haul.
The recycling company also was hurt when it picked up a collection of used TVs from Towne TV in Rotterdam — only to find that scavengers had gotten there fi rst.
“They smashed the tube to get at the copper. These sets were all smashed. They left plastic all over the parking lot,” said Towne TV manager Paul De-Milio. “I have had people take the back of a TV off, but nothing like this.”
Colt Recycling took the televisions anyway — the processing plant can also recycle the circuit boards and plastic — but when DeMilio called to ask for another pickup, he said the workers there were hesitant.
“They weren’t too happy,” he said. “I assured them it wouldn’t happen again.”
He taped messages to each TV in his new shipment, writing, “Smile! You’re on candid camera! If you do this again, you will be arrested, you will spend time in jail and I will press charges.” The TVs weren’t touched.
But sending scavengers to jail isn’t as easy as it sounds. The City Council is wrestling with a proposed law that would make scavenging illegal and allow anyone, from trash collection supervisors to police, to cite scavengers.
The trouble is that scavengers usually work in the middle of the night, and police, who are the likely to be the only ones to see it, must first determine whether the property owner is giving the items to the scavengers.
Councilwoman Leesa Perazzo was skeptical.
“I’m absolutely supporting it, but it seems very diffi cult to police,” she said.
Councilman Carl Erikson argued that once trash is placed on the curb, in the city’s rightof-way, it is owned by the city. Police could safely assume that scavengers are stealing from the city, he said.
Councilman Vince Riggi agreed, saying, “I know on my street there’s regulars who pick through the trash and sometimes leave it in disarray. Send a message : This is not allowed.”
But Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said his overworked police force can’t take on the job.
“A cop certainly isn’t going to flag someone without checking with the homeowner,” he said. “This is almost unenforceable. I think you need to think about it.”
Scavengers have always taken the most valuable recyclables, Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said. Once, that was newspaper. Now, it’s copper.
When metal sold for very little, Olsen said, the city collected 750 to 800 tons a year. Now, it collects 100 tons because scavengers take the rest.
“If people left it there, we could actually receive some revenue for it,” Olsen said.
But he’s more worried about the recyclables that are stripped and then left on the curb for Colt Recycling. “If people keep stripping out the only valuable part, they’ll start charging us or stop taking it,” he said.
He considers it stealing, and he wants residents to report license plates to the police for enforcement. He also thinks police could easily catch the scavengers, who often go methodically down the streets, stopping at each house.
“They’re not that diffi cult to fi nd,” he said.