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Manteca making it easier & more lucrative for homeless
Dennis Wyatt

Manteca — not by design — is about to make it easier for the homeless to stay on the streets and for drug addicts to support their habits.

The new recycling rules for blue carts are a godsend for a small army of scavengers dominated by the homeless who roam Manteca’s streets in the wee hours of the morning before solid waste trucks rumble down city streets.

Some mistakenly believe those on bicycles lugging buffoonish sized garbage bags stuffed with recyclables are doing the community a favor by retrieving discarded CRV containers around the city landscape. But in order to get that amount of CRVs from along roadsides, the city would have to be blanketed with empty cans and bottles.

The new rules requiring all paper as well as paperboard boxes to end up in the brown cart along with some other items such as Styrofoam, newspapers, magazines, and glass bottles are cleaning up the clutter in the blue carts.

It is leaving only clean corrugated cardboard, tin cans, No, 1 and No. 2 plastic containers and California Redemption Value (CRV) containers.

In reality by far the two most prominent items in the blue cart left after a half a month of complying with the new rules are the CRVs and the clean corrugated cardboard. 

It is making cart pilferage a much more efficient and lucrative act as it no longer requires having to shift through a bunch of paper to retrieve the CRV containers worth a nickel apiece. Based on typical household consumption, that means they could fish CRVs worth between $4 and $5 from a blue cart every two weeks.

And they can do so without drawing attention to them by making a mess.

A little over three years ago, the city was fielding a ton of complaints about the contents of blue carts being scattered on collection days with the callers believing municipal collection crews were responsible for the mess. It turned out that the homeless and others were beating collection trucks to the blue carts. Some of them were less than courteous opting to rifle through carts looking for CRVs while tossing whatever was worthless to them and in the way on the ground and not putting it back into the cart. The city at the same time was getting complaints about people who were entering yards a day before recycling collection when they spotted a blue cart through the fence and pilfering CRVs.

The city purchased a hundred “locking” blue carts to test in neighborhoods where the messing pilfering was taking place. The result was a drop off in recycling materials being tossed on the ground about to virtually zero.

The city never went beyond the 100 test carts as word spread on the street that if you left a mess Manteca was going to take away the mini gold mines the homeless and others were harvesting.

In reality, the city figured if they incurred the extra cost that was around $50 per cart that it may not be that effective. Not only are there more than 22,000 residential blue carts that would need to eventually be switched but there was a way to overcome the locking device that could make matters worse.

The carts, once the lock that is part of the design was secured and placed curbside, are picked up by collection trucks’ robotic arms that drivers manipulate with joy sticks and are turned upside down, the lid flips open and the recyclables fall into the truck. The lock comes undone when the cart is turned almost 180 degrees.

Scavengers could do the same thing by turning carts upside down and dumping out their contents. That would be worse than just tossing out recyclables that were in the way of CRVs.

This is not a nickel and dime issue.

Assuming a liberal 20 percent of Manteca households collect CRVs to take them to redemption centers, there is easily between $2 million and $2.5 million worth of CRVs the city collects in a year via the blue carts.

This is money that is used to help offset the cost of collecting all recyclables that have a value on both the city’s end and the firms that process them. Take away much of that by making it easier to “burglarize” the blue carts and all of a sudden we are all paying higher solid waste collection works.

It’s “burglarize” because under state law — as well as court rulings — once you place a cart for collection curbside the contents become city property.

That’s why City of Manteca Public Works Director Mark Houghton at two different City Council meetings has noted the pilferage of CRVs from blue carts is high on the list of issues the Solid Waste. Division needs to try and find a way to address.

Most people — despite grumbling some about increased solid waste collection costs that will result if they need to switch from a smaller brown cart to a larger one to handle the recyclables that no longer have market value that `no one wants and basically need to be landfilled — are not going to go through the pain of setting aside CRVs and taking them to redemption centers. (There happen to be two in Manteca — one near Grocery Outlet on Northwoods Drive off of East Yosemite Avenue and the other in the Raley’s center at Union Road and Lathrop Road.)

That’s a good thing for the city and solid waste customers that don’t redeem CRVs as it allows the city to mine the equivalent of recycling gold from blue carts to help keep the cost of collection services down.

But it also leaves a Mother Lode of CRVs for the homeless and others to claim jump. The new recycling rules will make it significantly easier to do so and would likely encourage even more pilferage than what is now taking place.

If blue carts in neighborhoods with a preponderance of good-sized families yield a minimum of $4 in CRVs every two weeks, all it would take is hitting 25 to net $100.  That $4 represents a four member household going through four CRV contains apiece per day — water bottles, soda containers, sports drinks, and such. 

Given under the new recycling rules those stealing from blue carts would find it more efficient  and more lucrative, if would be a safe bet such thefts would accelerate more rapidly.

That would leave the city with three significant headaches: A drop in revenue needed to keep solid waste costs down, creating easy money that will make it easier for the homeless to stay on the street instead of eventually giving in to gentle and consistent encouragement by Manteca Police personnel assigned to the homeless to accept help to get off the streets, and a pool of easy money to help finance drug habits.

That’s why they call it the recycling blues.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.