Baltimore County will soon have the muscle needed to crack down on recycling thieves with passage last night of a bill that makes such thefts a crime.
The measure, approved unanimously by the County Council, was introduced by Democratic Councilmen Louis L. DePazzo of Dundalk and Stephen G. "Samuel" Moxley of Catonsville.
It makes scavenging of recyclables a criminal misdemeanor subject to a fine of not less than $100 and not more than $500.
Police officers will hand out citations, similar to traffic citations, to offenders caught violating the law. Violators could pay the fine or request a court hearing.
Theft of recycling materials has become a problem across the country as the values of certain items -- mainly used newspapers and aluminum cans -- have risen. Police departments and recycling officials have stepped up enforcement against recycling thieves who cost local governments an estimated $100 million annually.
Under Maryland case law, trash and other items set out in a public area become abandoned property and fair game for anyone. To address that, the bill makes such materials property of the county. Most recycling items are placed along curbs or in alleys -- places normally considered public areas.
County recycling officials couldn't put a number on the amount of loss locally due to recycling thefts because the problem has been widely scattered. But officials agreed that the taking of recyclables is increasing just as the county for the first time in its two-year curbside recycling program was getting a financial return.
Since July 1, the county has been receiving $15 a ton for mixed containers and $122.50 per ton for paper products. In previous years, the county had to pay to have the refuse taken off its hands.
The county is averaging 200 tons per week of mixed containers and 750 tons of paper products, said Charles M. Reighart, county recycling coordinator. About 200,000 households in the county are served by curbside recycling.