When Todd Frye goes to bed on Thursday nights, he knows two things will happen the next morning: a truck will pick up his recycling and a man will pick through it before the Baltimore County workers arrive to collect the items.
"Between 5:30 and 7 (in the morning), this guy comes along and he dumps out everyone's recycling bucket on the block, making a lot of noise, and takes cans and stomps them," said the Mellor Avenue resident.
Picking through recycling, even when it is on public property, is a violation of a county ordinance, according to Capt. John Spiroff, commander of the Wilkens Police Station, which patrols Catonsville.
Article 13 of the County Code states only "employees of the county engaged in public work or private companies authorized by the county" may collect recyclables set out for collection.
Spiroff, who has sent officers to talk to Frye about the situation, said the violation is a misdemeanor.
Outreach officers, Spiroff said, have spoken with Frye about their findings, and officers have been directed to the location.
"If they see it, we'll charge the individual," Spiroff said.
The man picking through Mellor Avenue's recyclables has been a thorn in Frye's side since he noticed the action six months ago.
"He's got it timed really well," Frye said. "He's usually doing the last couple of houses on our street by the time the truck comes on the neighborhood."
Before contacting the authorities, Frye attempted to deter the picker, he said, by setting his bins on the house side of the sidewalk at the edge of his property line.
But it was to no avail.
"He just pulls it out anyhow, no respect for that," Frye said.
Charles Herrera, who has lived on Mellor Avenue for 13 years, recalled seeing a man go through the recycling in the neighborhood off Frederick Road.
He said he watched as the picker went through a neighbor's recyclables, just to make sure everything went back into the bin.
When it did, Herrera went about his day.
"I figured it was somebody taking the initiative and looking for recycling metal that they can sell, " Herrera said, noting he hasn't seen debris around his yard. "I don't think it's a matter of stealing. I think it's a matter of collecting.
"I understand the county makes money from it, but I'm sure the county gets a lot more volume than that man can collect," Herrera said. "We haven't had a bit of trouble."
Whatever the picker doesn't take, he puts back into the recycling bins, Frye said.
But often he misses and pieces end up littering the lawn, he said.
On the rare occasion the unidentified picker runs late, the truck will not collect the recycling that he is sorting through, Frye said.
Frye typically puts his recycling bins out the night before the collection truck comes. He said he tried waking up early to bring them out in the morning.
That's "tricky," he said, because he runs the risk of missing having his recyclables picked up.
That has happened a couple times, he said.
In another effort to stop the picker, Frye avoided buying canned goods. But the picker, he said, would still go through his recycling.
The picker's bounty for going through the neighborhood is two leaf bags filled with aluminum, Frye said.
"It seems like nickel and dime, but that's what the county gets the most money for," Frye said, noting the county's recycling program is subsidized by the sales of the recycling. "He's a nuisance and stealing metal."
There's a clear distinction between picking through recyclables and picking through trash, Spiroff said.
"Once you put garbage out, it's garbage. That's to be removed," Spiroff said. "Recycling (consists of) items of some sort of value to the county. That's why we have a county ordinance on it."
Charlie Reighart, the recycling and waste prevention manager for Baltimore County, said the county has had anti-scavenging laws in place since the 1990s.
It should be noted, Reighart said, the county received money for recyclables until February 2010 when the switch was made to single-stream recycling, which allows residents to combine their paper, metal and glass in one bin without sorting.
Initially, the county didn't receive revenue with single-stream recycling, Reighart said, because it did not have a facility that could sort the materials and had to hire a private company, Waste Management in Elkridge, to do so.
The county renegotiated the contract with Waste Management and Jan. 1, 2012, marked the first time in nearly two years, Reighart said, that the county would receive revenue sharing through recycling.
"There is value in terms of the steel, in terms of the aluminum, in terms of the plastic, in terms of the paper," Reighart said, noting the "values fluctuate."
In January, the county collected 73 cents per pound for aluminum, an amount greater than what an individual would likely get, Reighart said.
Recycling also benefits the county financially because it pays about $56 a ton to send garbage to dumps outside of the county, Reighart said.
Without recycling, Reighart reasoned, the weight brought to the dumps would increase.
Joseph Douglas, who lives next door to Frye, said he has never seen a person going through his recycling.
"I have noticed at times when I go out after the recycling, there was a little trash laying around," said Douglas, who has lived on Mellor Avenue since 1982. "I always just figured it was the garbage men."
Asked if it bothered him that someone would rummage through his refuse, he said, "I guess it kind of does, but I'm not ready to hire a private detective to find out who's doing this or anything."