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Plastic is fantastic - and it's also big business for thieves who steal the pallets and sell them to recyclers for cash.

Clare Goldsberry

January 30, 2012

4 Min Read
RFID helps crack LA pallet-theft ring; plastic thieves beware – you’re being tracked

Plastic is fantastic - and it's also big business for thieves who steal the pallets and sell them to recyclers for cash. A pre-Christmas raid by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Industrial Plastics Theft Task Force - yes, there really are five officers dedicated to tracking down and arresting those who steal industrial plastics of all types - at a South LA plastics recycling facility netted the task force over $250,000 worth of illegally obtained pallets.

Also confiscated, in addition to the plastic pallets, were a number of large boxes containing hundreds of pounds of ground plastic. 


LA pallet theft ring

On Dec. 19, 2011, LA Police task force members conducting business and professions code compliance checks of recycling businesses uncovered a large pallet theft ring in south LA.

The plastic pallets were recovered thanks to the RFID tags on the pallets owned by Intelligent Global Pooling Systems (iGPS Company LLC). iGPS has been a supporter of the task force and  has worked with it in its efforts to stop plastic pallet theft.

Al Farrell, VP of Asset Management at iGPS, told PlasticsToday in a telephone interview that plastic pallet theft is a "significant problem resulting in a multi-million dollar line item loss" for companies. This is the second major pallet theft bust that iGPS has participated in in less than six months. RFID tags on iGPS pallets helped Virginia State Police trace a large cache of misappropriated plastic pallets and containers at a pallet manufacturing and recycling firm operating in New Kent County, VA

Thieves don't just steal pallets, but also plastic milk crates, baking trays, and other industrial plastic containers which they then sell to plastic recycling facilities for cash. "The value of resin has gone up so much that this has become a lucrative business for these thieves," says Farrell.

Arizona implements legislation to discourage plastic pallet theft

Taking a lesson from previous legislation keyed on metal recyclers who would pay cash-on-the-barrel-head for steel, aluminum and copper - often stolen by thieves who need the cash - Arizona state legislators hope to discourage the theft of pallets used in wholesale deliveries by requiring recycling firms to keep a record of the people who turn in company-branded pallets for cash.

Supporters of the law said Arizona businesses are losing up to $3 million a year from the theft of plastic and wooden pallets, used by wholesale suppliers to deliver a variety of goods to grocery stores. Penalties could lead to fines of up to $30,000 for convicted pallet thieves.

While they were in the minority, opponents criticized the measure as "nanny" legislation and said the punishment was unjustifiably severe because it's already illegal in Arizona to possess stolen pallets.

 This past summer, new restrictions were placed on recycling companies that shred, resell or destroy pallets. If they buy five or more plastic pallets at a time from any individual the recycling firms must collect identifying information from the sellers, including name, phone number, driver's license or other ID number, and license-plate number. Recycling firms must keep the records on hand for at least a year and be open during regular business hours so police can examine the paperwork, according to the legislation, which is similar to the legislation passed a few years ago on recyclers of scrap metal.

Over $5 million in stolen trademarked plastic of various types has been recovered in the last four months of 2011, according to Capt. Mike Claus of the City of Industry sheriff's station, where the task force is based.

"Additionally, there's a large recycling community out there creating greater demand for recyclable plastics, and the problem is growing. For us, it's very important to manage the pool of our asset base," Farrell adds. "It's critical to what we do and we use a variety of procedures and processes to do the best we can to minimize loss and track down assets that stray from our supply chain."

iGPS uses both active and passive tracking technologies. Each pallet manufactured by iGPS has its own unique serial number. If products stray outside the supply chain, iGPS can track down the pallets, identify them discretely and prove that they are the property of iGPS.

The LA County Sheriff's Industrial Plastics Task Force had its beginning in the City of Industry, CA, a suburb of Los Angeles and a big industrial center with a large number of plastics processing companies. The City of Industry has funded this dedicated task force pursue plastic theft.  

"All the wrong conditions lead to the formation of this task force," Farrell explains.  "Los Angeles is a port city with a high population, and a lot of available plastic and grinding capacity. Often the theft and grinding of the pallets is associated with other criminal activity, so finding the plastic thieves often leads to drug busts and other illegal activities. The City of Industry is trying to create a better bus climate. The Task Force has been up and running since October and they have done a great job in helping us deter theft."           

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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