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Newspaper Thieves Grab Headlines Bins Turn Up Empty As Recycling Profits Soar

Old news is good news for some thieves.

Their unlikely gold mine: Curbside recycling boxes filled with old newspapers.

Spokane’s recycling collectors began noticing empty newspaper bins in spring. Since then, they said they’ve found about 50 percent of newspaper recycling bins at apartment complexes empty, which is unusual.

Why would anyone want to steal a bunch of old newspapers? Because rising newsprint prices have led to higher prices paid for recyclable newspaper.

“Some people go down the alleys, taking the newspaper,” said Bob Alderson, city recycling route supervisor.

Cities around the country are experiencing the thefts of newspapers for recycling from street curbs and apartment complexes. Taking the newspapers intended for the city is a crime in Spokane and most other areas.

In some cases, Spokane’s recycling collectors even spotted the thieves.

Bill Nesbitt, a recycling collector, spotted one older man taking a South Side neighborhood’s newspaper and even aluminum cans and cardboard.

“He was pretty well organized,” Nesbitt said.

Nesbitt saw the man traveling in the Perry and 37th area with a pickup filled with 55-gallon drums, each one for a different recyclable item.

A supervisor of Nesbitt drove to the area and warned the man not to take recycled items intended for the city.

“His story was that he was an older man who lived on Social Security,” Nesbitt said.

“It’s more lucrative so people take more risks. There’s a relationship,” Alderson said.

Some Spokane residents who spotted the thieves reported them to the city. Other thieves were caught by recycling collectors.

For the first time, Alderson began sending letters this spring to 20 suspected thieves warning them not to steal newspapers put on curbs. “We haven’t prosecuted anybody,” he said.

The city hasn’t had to. Once the letters were mailed, the problems diminished.

Alderson isn’t sure how many thousands of pounds of newspaper have been stolen. But the losses won’t hurt the city’s recycling program or increase the garbage rate anytime soon.

The city will recover more of its recycling costs than expected because of the increase in market value of recycled newspapers.

Recycled newspapers sold for between $95 to $115 a ton last summer, according to the Clean Washington Center, a division of the Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development. Last month, recycled newspapers peaked at an all-time high of $200 a ton.

“It’s reached the peak,” said John Yeasting, a business assistance analyst for the Clean Washington Center.

The price is now dropping but will probably remain higher than a couple of years ago, Yeasting said.

Some reasons why the value of recycled newspapers has risen include the shortage of timber and more demand for wood products. In addition, increased use of recycled newsprint throughout the state and nation has heightened the demand for recycled newspapers.

Stealing recycled items isn’t a new phenomena.

“There’s a lot of people in this city that make a living from taking recycling,” Nesbitt said.

Cardboard and aluminum cans have been the usual targets for theft. That’s still the case in the Valley and Coeur d’Alene. However, recycling collectors there have not noticed the theft of old newspapers.

Across the state, another city has coped with an aggressive thief of recycled newspapers this year.

Tacoma recycling collectors began noticing empty bins of newspapers on their routes this spring.

The mystery was quickly solved after a man was seen hitting the curbside recycling boxes before the city’s drivers.

The city’s recycling program was losing $100 a day during that two-week period. A police detective contacted the man and told him to stop. The trouble ended for a while.

“It’s the first time we’ve experienced people taking newspaper off our curbs,” said Dave Frutiger, the supervisor of recycling and hazardous waste programs for the city of Tacoma. “It’s happening all over the place.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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