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Brentwood Residents Irate : Midnight Scavengers Bag Recycling Items

Times Staff Writer

Some Brentwood residents who put out paper, glass and metals for the 4-year-old Los Angeles recycling program are finding that their efforts to help the city are lining the pockets of scavengers who take the materials and sell them to recyclers.

Residents are concerned that the late-night scavenging, which is a violation of the city code, brings unwanted individuals into their neighborhoods. They also believe that it cuts into city revenues.

But officials said there is very little anyone can do to stop it, and the scavenging achieves the goal of the project anyway.

Glenn Barr, a deputy to 11th District Councilman Marvin Braude, whose district includes Brentwood, said the scavenging is “not a terrible occurrence.

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“The purpose of the program is to reduce the amount of waste that is going into our landfills,” Barr said. “When scavengers take the materials, they achieve the same goal. Even this bad has a good side.”

The residents, however, say they’d like to see the law enforced. But because the trash is taken in the middle of the night, it’s difficult to catch the people who are taking it. Residents also are concerned about security.

“I’m not opposed to these people making money, I’m opposed to people snooping around who don’t necessarily belong here,” said one resident, who lives between Sunset and San Vicente and has had bottles and cans stolen.

Sanitation Department spokeswoman Gyl Elliott, said residents who see scavengers are encouraged to report license plates to the Sanitation Department. The department then sends a letter warning that scavenging is illegal and punishable by a $500 fine. Elliott said she knows of five such cases.

“There’s no practical way to enforce the law, except by staking out trash cans,” Barr said, “It’s hard to get the police to give a high priority to this.”

A police officer in West Los Angeles confirmed that. “It’s not a big priority thing right now,” the officer said. Peter Covette, the assistant supervisor of the West Los Angeles office of the city attorney, said neither he nor his staff is aware of anyone caught for scavenging.

Aside from the legal and security issues, some residents also are angry that their efforts to package their cans and bottles and newspapers doesn’t benefit the city. “These individuals are taking advantage of the work we do for the city,” a resident said.

Residents separate their glass, metals and paper, place the materials in city-provided containers and put them in front of their houses to be picked up by city workers. The workers take the material to a recycling facility in Santa Monica run by Ecolo-Haul, which buys the materials from the city. Recycling pickups are usually made in the early morning, sometimes before 7, on the same day as trash pickups.

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“It seems like the only way to solve the problem is not to put the cans out overnight or stop the program,” the resident said. “But that wouldn’t be good, and who wants to wake up at 6 a.m. to take out trash?”

The city operates the recycling program in the 11th City Council District, which includes Brentwood and Pacific Palisades, and some parts of the San Fernando Valley. The city of Santa Monica also conducts a recycling program and has had some scavenging problems. Barr said some scavenging complaints have come from Pacific Palisades.

Barr said participation in the 11th District recycling program ranges from 50% to 80% of residences and includes up to 17,000 homes, among the highest participation in the country for a recycling program.

The city makes about $9,000 a month on the recycling program, according to Elliott, but it operates at a deficit. She said it is difficult to determine how much scavengers reduce city revenue.

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Ron Rector, the General Manager of Ecolo-Haul, said the company receives about 200 tons of paper, glass, and metal from the Los Angeles program.

Newspaper accounts for 110 tons a month, bottles and jars for about 70 tons and cans for about 10 tons. Rector said aluminum, which sells for 70 cents a pound, is the most lucrative recycling material.

“At the beginning of the program, our metal (cans) would be three-quarters aluminum and one-quarter steel,” said Rector. Because aluminum is so much more valuable than steel, the figures are reversed when the scavengers find out when and where the pickups are made. Rector said steel cans make up 80% of the cans Ecolo-Haul receives.

“When the price of paper went down, our volume on newspaper doubled,” Rector said. Last August, paper sold for $60 a ton; now the price has plummeted to $15 a ton.

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