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So you thought gold was valuable?

Obviously, people steal some crazy things. Copper pipe is a popular—and profitable—commodity. Thieves rip copper from every place they can find it—school bathrooms and other public “plumbing” places—especially from new homes and the vacated homes—the result of foreclosures. In Phoenix, thieves steal man-hole covers—the city now covers them up with asphalt to make access to these heavy, steel covers much more difficult.

Jewelry store heists are now passé. The latest thing in theft is now plastic crates! Yes, you read that right. Plastic recycling has become so popular—and recyclers are getting higher prices for their recycled plastic—that thieves are now stealing plastic crates and trays, ubiquitous in the retail industry—in particular grocery stores and restaurants where truck loads of dairy products and bakery goods come in these handy plastic crates and trays. Often these empty crates and trays sit near the docks waiting to be picked up by the brand owners that reuse them.

An article in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks back noted that in Baltimore, three thieves were arrested after being spotted loading hundreds of these empty trays from behind a McDonald’s restaurant into a rental truck from. A private investigator had been hired to track these thefts, which according to the WSJ have become big business over the past few years. The thieves can collect a profit of about 8 cents/lb. for recycled plastic, the value being driven up by the increasing price of petroleum-based plastics. The WSJ says that recyclers resell this for more than 15 cents/lb. to manufacturers.

The big brand-owners are fighting back because these thefts are costing them a lot. The WSJ points out that the bakery industry alone loses about $75 million a year to tray theft—not exactly chump change. A number of companies have formed Combat, or “Control of Missing Baskets and Trays,” notes the WSJ.

The private investigator hired by Combat in the Baltimore area, who is a retired police officer, spends “every day of the week on plastic,” says the WSJ article. That shows just how big recycling has actually gotten in this country with the increased demand for recycled plastic materials among manufacturers who promote being “green” by using recycled materials.

Word must have gotten out that plastic really is fantastic! And hey, even thieves find it easy to be “green.” Clare Goldsberry

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