17 January 2012 23:09 [Source: ICIS news]
By Bobbie Clark
HOUSTON (ICIS)--Stolen plastic has become the focus of a multi-million dollar criminal enterprise, sources said on Tuesday.
Law enforcement officials and private businesses all over the US have become increasingly concerned with the theft of plastic goods, such as beverage crates, shelves, pallets and other items.
There are two primary elements to the crime. First, the plastic is stolen from businesses, either by scavengers or, in some cases, an employee and some partners.
Then it is transported to illegal grinding operations, typically hidden in unmarked warehouses or even in someone’s backyard.
Once grinded, the plastic is sold to recyclers and manufacturers at a price determined by a number of factors, including the quality and quantity of the plastic.
Some law enforcement officials say illegal plastic peddling can fetch millions of dollars.
Since October 2011, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) has recovered over $5m (€4m) of stolen plastic from illegal grinding operations throughout Los Angeles County.
“There is a tremendous amount of money involved," said LASD Sgt. Nabeel Mitry. "I would’ve never guessed it until I got into this. To me, it’s comparable to selling drugs.”
The crime has become so widespread that the city of Industry in Los Angeles County helped fund the Industrial Plastic Theft Task Force aimed at curtailing plastic theft.
The task force recently recovered $250,000 worth of stolen plastic products and made four arrests in south Los Angeles.
“Clearly, the enormity of the loss just in Los Angeles County could easily exceed $10m/year,” said LASD Captain Mike Claus. “Some business owners explained that their losses had been so huge, that had the thefts continued, they most likely would have had to go out of business.”
The nature of the crime also makes it hard for police to recognise because it is hidden in plain site.
“It looks like a typical delivery or pick-up,” Mitry said. “A truck pulls up to a warehouse where the plastic is stored, and then it’s loaded and transported to a grinder. A typical patrol officer is not going to recognise that as a crime.”
However, companies are starting to fight back.
For example, iGPS, a company that rents out plastic pallets made from high density polyethylene (HDPE), to manufacturers and other companies, has made it a priority to recover as many stolen pallets as possible.
Since iGPS’s business model relies on recovering pallets, the company vigorously pursues lost product.
The company has worked with law enforcement agencies all over the US to track down, not only their stolen pallets, but also the people stealing and grinding them.
“Our business model is very sensitive to any loss or attrition,” said Al Ferrell, vice president of asset management for iGPS.
“We recover pallets outside of our supply chain every day. This is an ongoing activity, and it’s always going to be a part of our business.”
While iGPS is at the forefront of the issue, Mitry said other companies, including Coca-Cola, Sara Lee and even the US Post Office, have started to take notice.
“We have 100% support from the companies,” he said. “When we find their products, it’s like finding their lost child. They tell us that they finally have someone to work with them and help them recover these items."
($1 = €0.78)
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