BUSINESS MANAGEMENT: Stopping Thieves from Stealing Trash Services

It's better to give than receive, especially if you're stuffing your trash in somebody else's can. And, when a "trash thief" dumps his trash in your bin, he gets you to pay for his disposal costs.

A trash thief can be anyone, including a company employee, a passerby or a nearby company that is relying on your company for trash disposal. In fact, the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA), Syracuse, N.Y., which oversees solid waste disposal, has its own trash thief file that includes firsthand reports of people using other's trash services. For instance:

* Outside the OCRRA offices, a man is seen driving up to the open-top, 30-cubic-yard roll-off containers being used for construction and demolition debris from a remodeled office. He gets out of his truck with a clear bag of household trash, throws it in the roll-off and drives away.

* A local restaurant sends a load of corrugated cardboard to a materials recovery facility (MRF) for recycling. At the MRF, a bunch of disposable diapers are found in the load. Obviously, the restaurant does not generate diapers in its operations.

* One caller to OCCRA's solid waste hotline complained that a dumpster he had been using for years is no longer available. The dumpster owner, a dairy store, has locked the container so he can't put his trash there. The caller is outraged that he has been denied access to his former trash outlet - even though he shouldn't have been putting trash there in the first place.

* Apartment complexes are particularly vulnerable to dumping by non-tenants. Some alert managers and apartment employees have spotted non-tenant cars, noted the license plates and gone through the trash to find identifying evidence, such as discarded junk mail with the thief's address.

* OCRRA speaks to approximately 12,000 students per year as part of its recycling education program. Often, a student - usually about 8 years old - will report that his or her family has no trash because "dad takes it to work."

* While helping one company's solid waste manager investigate the reason for its trash increase, an OCRRA employee jumped into the company's dumpster and removed all items that appeared to be household trash. Upon examination, the trash was traced to the company president's home. So much for waste reduction at the company - but at least the manager had an explanation for the increased trash.

To prevent "stealing," OCRRA advises businesses on how to protect themselves from illegal dumpers. OCRRA recommends:

* Monitor trash regularly. Every business should have an employee who is aware of the contents of the company's dumpster. By regularly observing what is dumped, someone will be able to note when non-company trash finds its way into company bins. Also, monitoring can determine how frequently the dumpster needs to be emptied. Such observation also will help employees spot hazardous waste that might be left for disposal.

* Lock dumpsters and recycling containers. While locking boxes is not completely fool-proof, to some extent, it does deter thieves. If the logistics of keeping boxes locked during the day is cumbersome, OCRRA recommends businesses lock containers at night and on the weekends. Companies with a construction roll-off site, are advised to fill containers as quickly as possible and have them moved off-site promptly.

People who steal trash services by discarding their trash next to locked dumpsters outside of company offices or at the doors of local charities can be charged with littering.

* Post warning signs. "Not for Public Use" or "No Trespassing" signs are important deterrents. Ask an attorney to ensure you are using language that is appropriate while making it clear that containers are not for public use.

* Place containers in secure areas. Companies that have a limited number of employees responsible for delivering trash to the dumpsters can place containers in locked areas. This can be inside a building or in a fenced area that only employees can access.

At apartment buildings, placing dumpsters out of non-tenants' sight can discourage dumpers from driving onto the property to steal trash services. If an outsider's trash is found, businesses can call the offender to retrieve the trash and dispose of it properly.

Unfortunately, most dumping goes undetected, or investigators are unable to track thieves. Laws also vary by municipality. OCRRA has an enforcement officer who is charged with a range of investigative duties connected to solid waste and recycling. He helps with theft of services and littering, but the culprit is not always easy to find. Fines for littering in the county range from $50 to $1,000.

One successful case occurred when tires were dumped at the door of a Salvation Army in central New York. Upon investigation, the charity found that a police agency's name was printed on the tires. The Salvation Army contacted the police department and learned that it had hired a company to "properly dispose" of the tires. Thus, the trash thief, who had attempted to save $4 per tire for disposal while earning a fee from the police department for disposal services, was apprehended.

Especially in pay-as-you-throw and open-by-volume communities where a container is pulled to the disposal facility, taking steps to deter trash thieves can help reduce the amount of illegal dumping and limit trash costs.