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Milking money out of stolen crates

Milk cartons in a crate

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: Recycling is good. We can all appreciate that. Anything we can do to cut down on waste is worthwhile. But some kinds of recycling are a good deal less socially acceptable than others. The recycling of stolen milk crates is a multimillion-dollar business. Right, the same kind of crates you might have sitting in your basement.

Edmund Woods handles security for the Alta Dena Dairy here in Los Angeles. Mr. Woods, good to have you with us.

Edmund Woods: Thank you. It's a pleasure being here.

Ryssdal: My reaction this morning when I saw this story on the AP wire was that it was about, you know, just a bunch of college kids stealing milk crates for their dorm rooms. Apparently it is a good deal more than that.

Woods: Well, it is a much bigger deal than that.

Ryssdal: What is happening to these crates and then what, eventually, are people doing with them?

Woods: They are taking the milk crates and then sending them to a recycler who regrinds them and then the regrind is sent overseas to use for other plastics — sent to Korea and to China.

Ryssdal: And there's a living to be made in this?

Woods: Yes, there is. A very good living.

Ryssdal: How much of a living? Is there a dollar amount?

Woods: Well, you figure that they can get anywhere from 14 cents to 28 cents a pound. Each milk crate weighs approximately 3 pounds. Alta Dena, we've lost over a million crates. Therefore, if you multiply that by three, you've got 3 million pounds that you can make some nice money at 12 to 28 cents.

Ryssdal: Obviously, this is . . . I suppose it's illegal to steal a crate. I mean, it's marked private property, right?

Woods: If you read the side of the crate, there's Penal Code Section 565, Penal Code Section 566 . . . and 566 is a felony. To be in possession of a crate for other than milk products.

Ryssdal: So, do you suppose that there are organizations out there who are actually going out and stealing truckloads-worth of these crates and sending them off to be recycled and profiting that way?

Woods: I know there is.

Ryssdal: How do you know?

Woods: Ongoing investigation shows that there are individuals out there who are going behind markets, behind my delivery men, taking the crates and then going to the recycler. The Dairy Institute has also helped investigate throughout California. And they have found recyclers who were receiving stolen property from people in order to regrind.

Ryssdal: Obviously, after you and I talk on the radio here, Mr. Woods, people are going to know it's illegal. But, what's your theory on what's going on out there. Do most people who are taking these crates not really think it's illegal? Is it a little bit like shopping carts, or something?

Woods: Basically, yes. I mean, a lot of people figure, oh, it's no problem. And for years it was just the price of doing business. But we take out them, for example, we spent over $4.33 million last year on milk crates. And we can no longer just ignore that and absorb the cost. We have to go out and attempt to reclaim our crates.

Ryssdal: So, Mr. Woods, I have one more question for you before I let you go. Let's say, you know, somebody, had in his garage, you know, from college days, a couple of milk crates. What might that person want to do with them?

Woods: Well, he can contact me at 1-800-457-6688, let me know he has some milk crates, and I will make arrangements for the crates to be dropped off someplace or we'll come by and pick them up.

Ryssdal: Edmund Woods is the manager of asset protection for Alta Dena Dairies here in Los Angeles. Mr. Woods, thanks very much for your time.

Woods: Thank you, very much.

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