Get tough on scrap scavengers

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West Milford Ordinances
321-21 Scavenging prohibited
Recycling materials placed at the curb are the property of the Township of West Milford or its authorized agent or an authorized agent of the establishment where private collection is being conducted. It is a violation of this article for any person unauthorized by the Township of West Milford to collect, pick up or cause to be collected or picked up any recyclable. Any and each such collection in violation hereof shall constitute a separate and distinct offense punishable as hereinafter provided in § 321-23, Violations and penalties.
321-23 Violations and penalties
Any person, firm or corporation who, without authority from the Township, removes items placed at curbside pursuant to and in accordance with the provisions of this article shall, upon conviction thereof, be punished by a fine not less than $500 nor greater that $5,000, or by imprisonment for a period not exceeding 90 days, or both, or community service for a period not exceeding 90 days. A separate offense shall be deemed committed for each and every act or occurrence which violates the terms of this article.

People are stealing from the township and nothing is being done about it.

That is the charge from Brian Murphy, a township resident and member of the West Milford Beautification and Recycling Task Force Committee, who has asked the township council to crack down on the thieves - scrap metal scavengers.

“If someone was stealing salt out of the salt shed for thousands of dollars a year, you'd do something about it,” said Murphy. “If someone was embezzling thousands of dollars a year, you'd do something about it.”

West Milford has a law on the books that makes it a crime to take materials left curb side intended for township recycling pick up. Yet, Murphy said, about a dozen individuals come in under cover of night and take off with the town’s recyclables. That, he said, is costing the township upwards of $60,000 each year, and that is a conservative estimate.

“That's just households,” said Murphy. “I’d guess it is much more.”

Don't vilify scavengers
Councilman Lou Signorino, who was a member of the council that passed the ordinance making it illegal to take curb side scrap metal, voted against that ordinance at the time. Signorino said recycling is the main issue here and there is no shortage of people willing to pick up and recycle items when you put them out. He said he doesn’t mind someone taking a bike or a barbeque grill from the curb. The ordinance “basically created criminals,” he said.

“There have been generations of families, people that have made a living collecting scrap metal from communities,” said Signorino. He wants to find a solution where the township is not vilifying those who take the recyclables.

Recycling brings revenue

The township sells its recyclables, which brings income to the township. At present, West Milford recoups $278 per ton for scrap metal, yielding a profit for the township of between $40,000 and $70,000 a year, the committee found. They estimated that the township loses another $45,000 to $60,000 to curb side scavengers.

To end that, the committee made several recommendations to the council:

Encouraging residents to place their recyclable metals at the curb the morning of collection.

Encourage residents with large metal items to notify the township so arrangements can be made for pick up.

Beef up police patrols on the evenings before metal collection days.

Vary the starting and ending points of collection routes to keep poachers off guard.

Encourage residents to report scavengers to police.

Advertise in the local papers announcing a crackdown on scrap metal poaching.

Coordinate the scheduling of metals collection on days when nearby communities are doing the same.

Amend local ordinances allowing the town to impound vehicles used for scavenging.

What is the intent of the law?

Mayor Bettina Bieri said the law wasn’t meant to keep kids who don’t have a bike from taking one left out for recycling.

“It was about commercial entities profiting,” she said.

“We're making them dishonest if they're picking it up,” Signorino said. “You're actually creating jobs.”

Murphy said he remembers as a kid in West Milford getting a bike that had been put out at the curb, so he understands that.

“My understanding is if you can walk away with it, and not put it in a motorized vehicle, it's not a crime,” Murphy said.

Signorino said he would be in favor of a “will call” system, where residents would notify the township of metal being put curb side and the township would make an appointment with them for pick up.

Murphy said he knows of no instances where people were prosecuted or fined for taking recyclables, even though the law and penalties exist (see box). He and the committee want that to change. And they want the penalties to be increased so scrappers are discouraged from doing their business here in West Milford. Penalties in New York City range from $2,000 for a first offense to $5,000 for subsequent offenses, according to the committee.

Beefed up patrols and a commitment by the council will lead to significant reduction of scrap metal pilfering by scavengers, according to the committee.

“I hope that something strikes a chord today,” said Murphy, “and you do something a little more harsh.”

What do you think? Is it a legitimate business to take recyclables from the curb or do they belong to the township? Go to and tell us your thoughts.

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West Milford, NJ