CASH, NOT TRASH: Discarded bottles are sorted by type and color at the Santa Monica Recycling Center on the east end of town. (Daniel Archuleta
CASH, NOT TRASH: Discarded bottles are sorted by type and color at the Santa Monica Recycling Center on the east end of town. (Daniel Archuleta
CASH, NOT TRASH: Discarded bottles are sorted by type and color at the Santa Monica Recycling Center on the east end of town. (Daniel Archuleta

CITYWIDE — It’s not uncommon to wake up in the middle of the night to a jarring noise of someone rifling through the trash and find the recycling bins toppled over the next morning.

Or to see a homeless person ambling across town carrying trash bags or pushing shopping carts full to the brim with cans and glass.

While it may provide a source of income for some, it’s illegal to remove recyclable glass, cans, newspaper, plastic and yard waste out of the containers left at the curb for collection without the owner’s permission. Recyclable materials are considered property of City Hall.

Stealing recyclables is a low priority call for law enforcement, Lt. Rich Lewis, with the Santa Monica Police Department, said.

“When we aren’t busy, we send them immediately,” Lewis said.

The offense is considered a misdemeanor.

If police officers see homeless carrying recyclables in a shopping cart, Lewis said police cite them for having a shopping cart, not for the recyclables.

“You’ll see some people pushing baby strollers,” Lewis said.

Martin Pastucha, director of public works for City Hall, said it’s a difficult issue in terms of enforcement because police have to catch people in the act of stealing recyclables. He said folks spend considerable time searching for recyclables, even hauling them around in trucks. Aside from bottles and cans, cardboard and newspapers are also hot items for semi-professional collectors who may not be homeless but are looking to cash in on the price of commodities.

Even if homeless are taking from collection bins, Pastucha said the thefts aren’t affecting City Hall’s goal to keep as much material out of landfills as possible. Under state law, cities and counties are required to divert at least 50 percent of waste collected and recycling plays a significant role in reaching that goal. Santa Monica has an even more ambition goal of 70 percent, and according to the Sustainable City Progress Report, the community is on track to reach that goal.

“It’s small quantities,” Pastucha said of the thefts. “Quite frankly, the materials [are] being diverted somewhere else; it’s all being recycled.”

In the 2012-13 fiscal year, City Hall delivered 13,105 tons of recyclable materials to Allan Co., which runs the recycling center located at the City Yards, said Kim Braun, Resource Recovery & Recycling manager.

For recycling California Redemption Value beverage containers made out of aluminum, glass, or plastic, City Hall also receives money from California each fiscal year in the state’s Beverage Container Recycling Program. CRV is 5 cents for each beverage container less than 24 ounces and 10 cents for each container 24 ounces or greater.

City Hall received $24,433 for the 2011-12 fiscal year, $24,474 for the 2010-11 year and $11,349 for 2009-10 fiscal year from the state, Mark Oldfield, spokesperson for the state Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, said. The department brings together the state’s recycling and waste management programs.

The money comes from the state’s beverage container recycling fund, Oldfield said.

Braun said the discrepancy in 2009 to 2010 comes from budget deficits in the state fund.

In 2012-13, the Resource Recovery & Recycling Division received $401,400 for recyclable materials collected curbside, Braun said.

AT OPCC, Santa Monica’s leading homeless services provider, those enrolled in its residential programs are educated about recycling and how income to pay their rent must come from gainful employment or benefits, John Maceri, executive director, said.

For the access center clients, it’s more challenging because the homeless are still living on the street, Maceri said. If homeless are seen with recyclables at the access center, the items aren’t confiscated, Maceri said, because officials can’t determine where the recyclables came from.

Some residents think they’ve found a solution for homeless who steal recyclables.

Gregg Heacock, former president of the Santa Monica Mid City Neighbors, suggested City Hall hire the homeless to help sort and collect recyclables.

The homeless are probably the “greatest experts” in recycling, he said.

“They can be recruited into a program that organizes them into work where they would benefit from how much they get,” Heacock said. “Folks do put things in the trash that others could benefit from that’s not necessarily garbage. We need to reframe the entire mindset in terms of how we deal with disposables.”

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