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Your Stories: City of San Diego says scavenging in recycling bins is illegal

Some people don't like it, others say it's no big deal. The city, however, says it's technically taking city property.

SAN DIEGO — You see it a lot in beach communities and in the downtown area, people digging though bins looking for recyclables. Some people don't like it, others say it's no big deal. The city of San Diego, however, says it's technically taking city property.

La Jolla resident Chris Cott says he sees it all the time. 

"I see it daily," he said. "There's scavengers of all sorts. Some on bikes, some with shopping carts, some with nice cars."

He posted about it on the social media site NextDoor, sparking a conversation of whether or not it is legal to take someone else's recyclables. The city says it isn't. 

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"It is against the law," said Julie Sands, Supervising Recycling Specialist for the City of San Diego. "They're not supposed to be digging through any of the blue or black bins because it is considered city property."

The city says it loses thousands every year to scavengers who raid recycling bins. Sands says what's in the bins helps pay for the recycling program.

"It doesn't pay for the whole program but it does offset those costs," she said. "If those materials are taken, not by the city, but by someone else, that's essentially taking money out of the city coffers."

The city has even created a "No Scavenging Flier" you can download off its website and print.

Sands says there are code enforcement officers who can issue tickets. However, it’s difficult.

"It is difficult to catch people in the act because many people who go through trying to scavenge they're doing it in early morning hours," said Sands.

And that's a concern for Cott.

"I recently lost my mountain bike, my dog carrier, my girlfriend's car has been broken into, my neighbor lost his electric bike, all in the wee hours," said Cott. "Not all scavengers, not all homeless but it's in the wee hours they're doing this."

"You don't want people going onto other residents' private property," said Sands. "It's scary for people."

Homeless advocate Michael McConnell says for some homeless people, collecting recyclables is their only form of income. He says some residents actually intentionally leave recyclables out for the homeless.

He adds, “It’s unfortunate people have to recycle to get a little money to get by. However, I understand we don’t want people going through trash cans in the middle of the night.”

The city recommends residents put their blue bins out in the morning, rather than at night.