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Are dumpster divers stealing?
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Are dumpster divers stealing money from the city and evading taxes?

At least one Manteca Bulletin reader thinks so. She was specifically referring to the man named Keith whose story appeared in the Thursday, June 19, edition of the paper. In the column that I wrote. I mentioned that the self-described “canner” hauls in at least $65 a day – sometimes $100 or $150 – from sales made at recycling centers in Manteca. He starts combing the streets and dumpsters in Manteca and Lathrop at 4 o’clock in the morning and usually finishes around noon or 1 p.m.

His mode of transportation is a tricycle that he physically and mentally contrived together out of old bicycles and a wheelchair. He somehow manages to tie the humongous bags of plastics and recyclables in the back of this contraption. The bags are so huge each one of them dwarfs the three-wheeled vehicle whose tires need constant pumping.

The astute reader, who did not want to give her name, made some interesting points, not the least of which are the numbers she carefully crunched based on the information Keith volunteered.

If he makes $65 a day, and “if he does that 25 days a month – say, he takes a couple of days off – he’s making over $1,600 a month tax free,” the reader pointed out.

Her argument about stealing from the city came from her assumption that not all of those plastics and recyclables that Keith collects are found on the side of the road. Maybe many of them, she surmised, but she believes the canner collects the recyclables by “going through our blue cans, the city bins.

“And that’s stealing from the city. So he’s not only stealing from the city but he’s evading taxes also.”

Keith admitted he was collecting and selling cans not because he wants to help the environment but to survive and “to get out of welfare.” He said he is a college graduate and held good-paying jobs with his business degree. But life circumstances beyond his control, which he did not want to elaborate on, drastically affected his economic situation and is now living in a rental place in Lathrop. He lived in Manteca before that. He also admitted that collecting cans and pedaling all over the Family City and Lathrop is therapeutic for him.

He said he is trying to save money he earns from the recyclables with the goal of being out of welfare by the end of the year.

Still, the Bulletin reader thinks that part of what he is doing, to her point of view, is illegal and there’s no way around it.

“I’m against dumpster diving because that stuff belongs to the city,” she said.

She is glad Keith is “trying to do something, but I live next door to a drug house and I know, I see all these druggies coming in and out and all these people hauling garbage and stuff all the time, so I’m kind of fed up with a lot of the stuff that people are doing illegally.”

While she wishes Keith all the best, she said that instead of “stealing” from the city, “he should go downtown to that Labor Ready place and try to get a job, especially with the education he has.”