That cardboard box holding your newest household appliance may be more valuable than you think.
People across California have been stealing and selling large quantities of cardboard. Waste management companies say it can sell for as much as $150 a ton.
"They break into our [trash or recycling] bins before we can get to them," said Sue Gordon, spokeswoman for Rainbow Environmental Services in Huntington Beach. "When it's in the bin, it's our property. If the cardboard is thrown out the back of a shopping center on the street or alley, that's fair game."
About half of the cardboard that Rainbow usually collects is being stolen, Gordon said.
Rainbow funds one city code enforcement officer to investigate reports of such thefts and to issue fines to those who are caught, she said.
The thefts are costly to Rainbow and other waste companies because the businesses sell the cardboard in countries such as India and China, where it is recycled to make new boxes for shipping products to the United States, Gordon said.
Huntington Beach also is affected financially because it receives franchise fees from Rainbow for every ton of cardboard sold.
Gordon did not provide an estimate of how much money the thefts are costing Rainbow and the city.
Gordon said selling cardboard hasn't always been lucrative. After the recession hit in 2008, cardboard's value dropped to as low as $26 a ton, she said. Before that, it was being sold for about $226 a ton.
"We couldn't give it away" during the recession, she said. "It's a commodity and it's based on demand. They rise and fall just like anything else."
Gordon said cardboard prices could fall again because of the recent labor dispute at West Coast ports, which kept the material from being shipped.