Taking items from blue recycle bins: Is it illegal?

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) -- A central Bakersfield neighbor was so furious when a man took things from her blue recycling bin, that she confronted him. She's pretty sure it's illegal, figuring it amounts to theft and trespassing. Bakersfield police confirm that, and they have advice for residents.

Carol Smith lives near California Avenue and Real Road. It was a couple weeks ago, when she heard a neighbor yelling at a man who was scooping up bottles from the recycling bin next to Smith's front fence.

"I see some man with a big trash bag, and he's stolen my recycling," Smith says. "The guy wouldn't stop. I was in front of him, trying to get him to stop, and he wouldn't. We ended up in the street."

Smith says the man was accompanied by a woman, who was pushing a cart. At one point, she grabbed at the bag the man held, and gave him a piece of her mind.

"I said - 'that's my recycling, you can't have it.'" She says the neighbor finally convinced the man to put the bottles back in the bin. Most them, she says.

"It was the point that my next door neighbor said, you can't do that," Smith says. "And, number-two -- that's not yours." Smith is pretty convinced that taking her plastic water- and soda bottles from the blue bin was an actual theft.

"Technically, it's a theft for anyone to remove other people's items from the blue recycle bin," Bakersfield Police Sgt. Gary Carruesco told Eyewitness News. "If they remove the items when the bin is still on the person's property, then that person is the victim of the crime." He says in that situation, trespassing was also committed.

It's a slightly different violation if the recycling bin has been put out by the curb.

"Once the bin has been placed out on the street for pick-up, if the items are removed, then the City of Bakersfield becomes the victim."

Carruesco says thefts of items valued at less than $950 are considered misdemeanors, and can result in a range of penalties which could include a fine or jail time.

Smith says she's seen thefts a number of times from blue bins around her neighborhood. The confrontation with the man by her bin was in late October, but just this week a neighbor saw someone going through their recycling bin.

Smith says it's the principle of the theft, she's not worried about the value of redeeming the bottles or cans.

"It's up to us, we have the can, we're supposed to be part of recycling," she says. But, her part of that process is also a matter of principle -- and that's what she told the man she confronted.

"I told him, I'm the one that pays the CRV (California redemption value), not you. You didn't pay that, I did," she says.

Smith now puts both the recycling bin and the trash can inside her garage. She puts the bins out, just before they'll be picked up.

That's exactly what police advise.

"Keep them behind locked gates prior to putting them out on the street for pick-up," Sgt. Carruesco said. He also said residents can call police if they see people going through the recycle bins.

Smith says she'll stick with keeping the bins inside her garage. "Since I've put them in here, I feel better," she says.

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