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Blue canning may soon be thing of past
What the new lockable recycling toters will look like. - photo by Photo Contributed

It was quick and it was easy. 

And as long as he kept it quiet, Chris Sweck could breeze his way through a neighborhood and fill his cart with cans and bottles and nobody would be the wiser. 

It was a good racket while it lasted. 

Amidst complaints that the homeless are rifling through recyclables and leaving unwanted paper and cardboard strewn about, the City of Manteca is launching a pilot program that will feature locked lids that can only be open when the blue bins are held completely upside down – a task that can only be achieved by the robotic arm on the city’s refuse trucks. 

“Blue canning,” as Sweck calls it, might soon be a thing of the past. 

“There are places that you go to where you know that you’re going to find something, and those are your regular spots. But other people know about those too, so the blue cans were kind of a way where you knew that you had recyclables,” he said. “I knew people that got in trouble for doing it, but I was always quiet. I never made a mess.”

The City of Manteca used to receive an annual check for $160,000 from the firm that carries the contract to accept the recyclables that collected and distributed from the blue bins every year. That number has since been halved because of pilfering. 

And the pilfering is lucrative. 

Roughly 20 recyclable containers – just under two twelve packs of cans – represents a dollar in redeemable value. Having it all in a concentrated place makes it easy for people to pop in, grab what they can, and disappear before getting caught. 

It wasn’t the fact that people were stealing recyclables that bothered resident Courtney Robbie, but the fact that she would routinely come out to leave for work and see that the carefully placed contents that she gathered up the night before would be all over her sidewalk and driveway. 

“Part of me wanted to just leave the aluminum cans off to the side so they could grab the bag,” she said. “I didn’t feel like getting dressed, putting on heels and then having to pick up labels and boxes that they didn’t want to take. 

“Maybe this is something that’s needed.”

One of the issues that the lockable can is supposed to resolve is cross-contamination between recyclables and trash that occurs when rifling happens – eliminating any value to the contents of the blue can to the city and essentially creating a secondary garbage bin. 

The new bins will be placed out at 100 homes along Mission Ridge Drive and nearby streets on Sept. 15, and the results of the program will determine whether it more widely-adopted. 

To be effective, residents have to remember to lock the Toters before placing them at curbside.