Decatur official Felix Floyd comments on aluminum “scavengers”

It all started with a post on eastlakeneighborhood.org last Thursday, March 3, 2011. That day, someone in a beige car pulled up to a Ridgecrest resident’s curb and proceeded to throw the resident’s blue DeKalb county recycling bag into the trunk of their car and drive off. Later that same day, PGC resident Alice DeMille emailed me to say that the previous week, she’d witnessed a guy in a white SUV doing the same thing to someone’s blue bag on East Lake Drive. Two days later on the 5th, PGC resident Betheda Gramling emailed to say that on a Wednesday morning (either Feb. 23 or Mar. 2), a man in a green SUV was in the process of taking her blue recycling bag and explained to her that he was looking for aluminum to make a few dollars. Betheda told him she’d try to separate it for him the next time.

Apparently, City of Decatur picks up recycling on Tuesdays, not Wednesdays as DeKalb county does, and Decatur provides a “container bin” for recycling metal, glass, and plastic, while DeKalb county provides blue plastic bags for metal, glass, and plastic recycling. Keeping that in mind, on Tuesday March 8 PGC Decatur resident Christy Kennedy reported that she observed two different men looking through her and her neighbor’s City of Decatur container bins right before recycling pick-up that morning. The first man was a passenger in a pickup truck who would stop to pick through some, but not all, of the Decatur container bins. He held up an aluminum can for Christy to see and she let him take it, after which time he moved on to another house. The second man was carrying two large opaque bags over his shoulders which made the distinct sound of aluminum cans clinking inside. He searched through her neighbor’s container bin and moved on without touching the paper bin. PGC Decatur resident Don Rigger pointed out yesterday that

“In City of Decatur, the recycling company is paid by the ton. Although they are light, aluminum cans are the most valuable recyclable. Every can taken from a bin is money out of the recycling contractor’s pocket. So, it seems like the police (or somebody) should care.”

After hearing from Don, it got me to thinking: What does the City of Decatur think about all this? So I called up the City of Decatur’s Public Works Department right then and there. I was directed to Felix Floyd, the Facilities Maintenance Superintendent of City of Decatur Public Works. Mr. Floyd had a name for this behavior: scavenging. Mr. Floyd intuitively empathized with the concerns I voiced on behalf of our neighbors and volunteered to me that recyclables scavenging is something City of Decatur doesn’t want people to do, but there is currently no “scavenger ordinance” in place yet making this activity illegal. He went on to explain that Decatur recycling issues are under the purview of the City’s Environmental Sustainability Board, whose members have indicated that within the next several months, they may consider drawing up an ordinance that would ban aluminum scavenging from residential curbsides.

Yesterday, March 8, PGC Decatur resident Timothy Dignam chimed in to let me know that

“We saw someone going through our recycling bin, taking alum cans out, crushing them and putting them in a bag. I watched the person and that was all that he was doing. Don’t have a problem with it if that is all it is.”

Although some neighbors like Tim have indicated that they personally don’t mind scavenging, others such as Don Rigger quoted above bring up valid points on the other side of the issue. Here is another sighting and concern from PGC DeKalb county residents Sherri Lane and Carolyn Dunbar:

“Multiple cars have been stopping in front of our house on Wed mornings and taking our blue recycling bags, not just taking out the cans. Even if they are not taking paper products, at this point, it doesn’t seem like a good idea for several reasons. Mainly, why would we all be buying blue recycling bags, making the effort to recycle, then have everything except the aluminum cans be thrown into someone else’s garbage (then landfill)? I have asked several of these people what they do with the rest of the recycling items and this is what they told me. You’re probably correct that it is not “criminal” activity and we’re sorry that people are needing to sort through recycling bags to get cans to sell, but don’t know how DeKalb County and City of Decatur will keep up their recycling programs if no blue bags are out there on the curb for pick up. Let us know what the rest of you think.”

You can’t argue that these are some good points brought up by Sherri, Carolyn, and Don. These are all of the comments I’ve received so far via email, but they keep coming in on a fairly regular basis, so rather than sending multiple emails via the mailing list, I thought posting an article about this issue on the website would be the best way for PGC neighbors to communicate on this issue. Everyone’s “scavenging” sightings, opinions, and feedback are welcomed here — just click on Leave a Comment below and post your comment to this page. I will invite Felix Floyd and/or the members of the Environmental Sustainability Board of Decatur to post their input here as well in the coming days. In the meantime, please contribute your own sightings and opinions via this website’s Leave a Comment feature. Thanks!

posted by Rebecca Kerimbaev

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5 responses to “Decatur official Felix Floyd comments on aluminum “scavengers”

  1. Paul Thompson

    While I see scavenging as a seemingly innocuous activity when comparing it to other activities that we must face in an urban environment, I don’t like to condone it for several reasons. I’m not sure how much good a law or ordinance would be that banned it, as enforcement and penalties are unlikely to act as a deterrent. I would be interested in hearing how other cities or counties have deterred curbside scavenging of recyclables. I’d be willing to take all of my aluminum to the farmer’s market recycling area in order to have them avoid me if that’s what they were after.

    Reasons I cannot condone curbside scavenging:
    1. It could lead to less overall recycling due to scavengers throwing away glass and plastics, or even worse, the city or county’s contractors deciding to stop participating in a recycling program
    2. Condoning or ignoring it could lead to more unwanted residents throughout the neighborhood at times/days when some of us are not at home

    But here’s the good part…if we are prime targets for recyclables scavengers, then we must be great recyclers!

  2. I agree with you Paul; your points are right on, in my opinion. Katie pointed out to me that our PGC article was picked up today by Decaturmetro.com at: http://www.decaturmetro.com/2011/03/10/trash-scavenging-currently-legal-in-decatur/#comment-100422
    There are plenty of additional comments there with many viewpoints, some more informed than others. I just added two comments there of my own. Gary Garrett, Chairperson of the Environmental Sustainability Board, contacted me this morning and gave me a little bit of an update. I will post as soon as I have time.

  3. Karna Candler

    I agree with Paul and Rebecca and do not condone curbside scavenging of recyclables. Our taxes pay for a contract with a recycling company which guarantees recycling all approved items in the bin or bag, and they come regularly. If the scavengers can provide the same service and guarantee, then I would recommend the county/city cancel their contracts and go with the scavengers. I am afraid that their selective scavenging will impact our contracts with the recycling companies. If I see them doing it to my recyclables, I will discourage it.

  4. I am a volunteer member of the Decatur Environmental Sustainability Board. I will raise this issue at the next board meeting.

  5. Paul Thompson

    My blue recycling bag was not there this morning when I woke up…someone scavenged it overnight. I may have to start putting out the blue bag with no aluminum, and taking the cans to the Farmers Market.

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