Plastic Pallet and Container Theft Featured in the Los Angeles Times

The issue of pallet and container theft received s boost of exposure this week with an article in the Los Angeles Times. The story is all too familiar:

It was a sight Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Shelley Jones had observed many times while on patrol, and if it hadn’t been for a call she’d received a few days before, she wouldn’t have given the man a second glance. A local dairy executive had phoned to report a mysterious phenomenon: Every night, plastic pallets used to distribute goods from warehouses, dairies and farms to stores were disappearing from Southern California businesses by the tens of thousands. It was costing businesses in the region millions of dollars a year, he said.

The suspect tells Jones that he is selling the plastic on the street corner to another man for 15 cents per pound – a crime that all too often goes unnoticed. “Your average street cop watching someone behind a store collect this stuff would not … think twice about it,” Sheriff’s Sgt. Nabeel Mitry commented in the story. “It’s not a sexy crime.”

Meanwhile, Rockview Farms, a California dairy, reports container losses amounting to $1.4 million per year.

While plastic pallet and container theft is an issue nationally and internationally, interviewees suggest that it is very problematic in Southern California due to easy access to international shipping from the Port of Los Angeles, and the region’s well developed recycling infrastructure. Case in point, Sara Lee spends about $5 million a year replacing plastic bread trays on a national basis, but about a third of losses occur in Southern California, according to a company official.

Joseph Harrington, an occasional contributor to and leading expert in the area of container theft comments briefly in the story on what seems to be a level of apathy on the part of many businesses.

My perspective is as follows. Theft is a serious problem, causing industry and ultimately consumers to bear unnecessary cost. At the same time, it is an issue that may adversely impact the wider adoption of reusables, an approach to packaging that can and should deliver important economic and environmental benefits to society when adequately managed. From a policy perspective, I find it troubling that policing is required to subsidize inadequate management controls. I would feel better about the situation if there were signs of systemic changes underway that would eventually be supportive of better management, such as all new retail outlets being designed with secure storage for reusables.

Just my thoughts. Please weigh in with yours.

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