Theft of Curbside Recyclables

Is Taking Recyclables Really Against the Law?

Yes! Taking recyclables that have been set out for collection by the city's recycling contractor is called scavenging and violates both the Union City Municipal Code and the California Public Resources Code. It is in our collective interest to stop this activity. Scavengers may become bolder and take other things from our neighborhoods.

What is the Penalty?

Any person who violates Section 7.04.050.E of the Municipal Code shall be guilty of an infraction and subject to the following penalty:

  1. A fine not exceeding one hundred dollars ($100.00) for the first violation.
  2. A fine not exceeding two hundred dollars ($200.00) for a second violation of the same ordinance within one year.
  3. A fine not exceeding five hundred dollars ($500.00) for the third violation of the same ordinance within one year.

What Can I Do If I See Someone Taking Recyclables?

  • If you see someone systematically going through recycling on your street and you anticipate that they will be there for some time, call 510.471.1365 and explain the situation. The operator will let police officers in the area know of the activity and they will respond if they are available and not dealing with more immediate issues.
  • If you see unauthorized people in vehicles removing recyclables, take down their license plate number and immediately call 510.471.1365.
  • Do not attempt to stop poachers.
  • If an officer was not able to respond to a call or if the incident happened sometime earlier and you have some details (time, location, description, license plate) to report, please call the City's Solid Waste & Recycling Office at 510.675.5466. They will take the information and attempt to follow-up.

What Can I and My Neighbors do to Prevent the Theft of Recyclables in Our Area?

You and your neighbors can be effective in stopping this behavior if your actions are coordinated and deliver a consistent message to scavengers that their activities won't be tolerated or facilitated.

Consider the following options:

  • Put your recyclables out on the curb by 6 am on the day of collection instead of the night before. Having them out all night could facilitate theft.
  • For scrap paper that has personal information; shred or tear it and put inside paper bags in the mixed paper bin (this prevents thieves from stealing your identity or using financial information).
  • Get to know your neighbors. Get involved in a neighborhood watch.
  • Be observant and take notes

How Does Recyclables Theft Affect Our Community?

Revenue from the sale of recyclables collected by City contractors is used to offset the cost of collecting these materials. When recyclable materials are stolen, potential market revenue is lost and our fees for recyclables collection may need to be increased. Theft also discourages residents from recycling, defeating the goals of the City's curbside recycling program.