With the demand for recycled paper products boosting the value of cardboard, newsprint and business paper, one person’s trash can be another person’s treasure.
The Tacoma Refuse Utility calculates that over the past year it has lost about a ton of recycled newspaper a day to thieves.
Sometimes the papers are taken right off the curb. Other times they come out of recycling bins.
“It’s very easy for us to see,” said Dave Frutiger, the Tacoma Refuse Utility’s manager of recycling. “Our drivers make 1,000 stops a day and they can sense when something is not there that used to be.”
Though the amount of paper stolen can quickly add up, the amount of money lost is slight, officials say.
In 1994, the city of Tacoma brought in about 23,000 tons of recyclable material - newsprint, aluminum and glass - said Phil Ringrose, division manager for Tacoma Refuse Utility.
But the revenue it produced is so small it has little effect on homeowners’ garbage bills - about one half of 1 percent of the average rate, Ringrose said.
“We’re talking pennies,” he said.
Aluminum cans used to be a favorite target of recycling thieves. But the rising price for recycled newsprint has made newspaper theft more attractive.
Newsprint prices rose from about $20 a ton in mid-1994 to a high near $100 a ton by year’s end, according to a report in the February issue of Pulp & Paper.
Rates recyclers pay for used paper products vary, depending on the grade, amount and regularity of delivery.Tacoma Recycling is paying three cents a pound, or $60 a ton, for newsprint. Cardboard recyclers are paying 2.5 cents a pound, said Paul Henderson, director of operations for Murrey’s Disposal and American Disposal in Tacoma.
It’s against the law to steal recyclable materials left curbside or at drop sites. Depending on how much is taken, the theft can even be a felony.
Arrests are rare.
One of the few recently was made by Fife police, who arrested two cardboard thieves April 4, detective Dave Woods said.
The pair had taken three bales of cardboard that police estimated weighed between 500 and 700 pounds each from the Drug Emporium on Sixth Avenue in Tacoma. The bales were estimated to be worth $90 to $100 each.