Blue Bag Bandits Plague Columbia
Columbia makes big bucks recycling blue bags and their contents. And that's causing a battle between the city and early-morning thieves who snatch bags off curbs and cash them in at private recyclers.
The city needs recycling revenue to avoid raising customers' trash pick-up rates.
So, the Public Works Department is trying to bust the blue bag bandits.
"A car comes up, a person jumps out, looks at the bags, and takes the bags with the cans," explained Dennie Pendergrass of the public works department.
"Some people take it out of the blue bags and put it in another bag," added Brett Allen, who owns a private recycling center in Columbia. "But, we do get some where we can tell they actually got it from the curb."
Now, the city's taking a stand against trash thieves.
"What we always told people was to call the police and file a complaint," advised Pendergrass.
Scott Marshall has fought the blue bag battle for years, and saw his bags stolen four weeks in a row. He says the bandits hit central Columbia mostly.
"One thing I wish would happen is the recycling center, that's a private entity, would not take city stuff," he said.
But, private recyclers and bandits aren't doing anything illegal.
"The items in the blue bags, we do recycle. But, like I said, we're not the blue bag police here," said Allen.
However, private recyclers see blue bags everyday, partly because of high redemption rates for recyclables.
"We're paying a pretty good price for aluminum cans now," Allen added.
Eight bales of aluminum are worth about $5,000. Blue bags helped generate about $180,000 last year for the public works department.
One official said more crooks could mean a crunch on your pocketbook.
"Any combination of costs going up or revenues decreasing leads to rate increases," said Pendergrass
The blue bag bottom line helps run the city recycling center.
"It's pretty expensive to run this place," explained Pendergrass. We've got a lot of labor. We have capital money we have to pay back, all kinds of maintenance."
Still, the city can't tell how much money it might be missing.
Marshall's tired of the city missing his bags and, if you mess with him, he has a message.
"Please leave mine here," he said. "It's for the city, and next time I catch you, I will report you."
Pretty soon that report might have more merit, because the public works department said it's lobbying for a city law to make stealing blue bags illegal.
Columbia's blue bag recycling program started in 1998.