Swiping soda cans from recycling bins can now bring a fine from the city.
The City Council voted Tuesday to make it a misdemeanor to steal recyclables, saying the law is necessary to stop thieves from raiding bins left outside homes and businesses.
The measure specifies that materials become city property once they go into a bin and can only be removed by the property owner or city pickup crew. Violators can be fined up to $500.
City officials say recycling theft is becoming more common as an easy, if time-consuming, way to make money.
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Aluminum cans can be resold to metal scrap dealers for roughly 75 cents per grocery bag.
“This was brought to our attention because there are some organizations that are going down streets and dumping entire contents of bins into their own trucks,” Mayor Nancy McFarlane said.
Recycling is a big business for Raleigh. The city is paid $30 for every ton recycled with its processor.
Crews have collected more than 296,000 tons since Raleigh began curbside recycling in 1989.
The city is gradually replacing bins with rollout carts. A recent survey by the solid waste services department found that 56.8 percent of residents recycle more materials with the new rollout carts.
Passing a new law is an extreme way to deal with the problem, said councilman John Odom, who cast the lone vote in opposition.
“We seem to pass an ordinance every time someone complains,” Odom said.
The impetus for the new law came from Mark Turner, the city’s parks board chairman and a community organizer in East Raleigh.
Turner spotted a pickup truck in his neighborhood one recent morning. A man hopped out, collected aluminum cans from a curbside recycling bin and continued down the street.
When Turner returned home later in the day, he spotted a man in a different truck doing the same thing. He later contacted city officials.
City Attorney Tom McCormick said the measure is intended to serve as a deterrent. Police will generally give warnings to first-time offenders, but repeat violators will be ticketed, McCormick said.
Money collected from citations will go to the Wake County school system.