The city of Tacoma, Wash., claims Eric Norton, owner of Northwest Plastic Recovery, is a junk dealer. Norton says he's not and refuses to pay an annual $100 fee to the city to do business as one. Norton, who operates his plastics recycling business in two locations, has been cited twice and has been fined $300 a day for dealing in junk without a license. He paid the $100 fee under protest the first two years. This year he refused to ante up for a license.
Tacoma officials admit the 26-year-old ordinance is a bit dated and was implemented to regulate the junk business and prevent piles of cast-off items from accumulating.
Now Norton is threatening to leave Tacoma - something that has Tacoma Councilman Steve Kirby worried. Kirby said he fears Norton will make good on his threat , taking seven jobs and taxes on about $300,000 worth of business annually, and has promised to take a look at the ordinance.
``All [Norton] has to do to avoid all this trouble is move about a mile and be outside the city,'' Kirby said. ``Then we get zero.''
Northwest Plastic Recovery collects post-consumer items such as buckets and pails, bakery trays, and milk crates from commercial food processors. The firm grinds the items, which are mainly polyethylene, then, through an exclusive agreement, sells Ropak Northwest the material it uses to mold new buckets and paint pails. Norton also has a PVC grinding service for vinyl window makers.
Norton wants to see the ordinance changed to a recycling permit and have a recycling ordinance that better accommodates his businesses.
A committee has been formed to look at the ordinance to see where it might fall short or need modification with regard to recycling businesses, said Duston Jensen, manager of the city's tax and license division.
``It's a good ordinance on its face,'' he said. ``There's a few regulatory points that don't fit a recycling company, but that's what we're taking a look at.''
Jensen said the ordinance regulates for location, cleanliness, environmental contamination and public health and safety concerns. He feels that Norton is overreacting to the term ``junk dealer'' on the license, rather than to the ordi-nance itself.
However, Norton said the ordinance contains regulations that he cannot abide by, such as the one requiring goods be held for three business days.
This is to allow police time to inspect for stolen property. Jen-sen said officials are not concerned about this regulation with regard to Norton's recycling business where he has contracts to pick up materials at specific places.
But, said Jensen, if there was a huge amount of plastic buckets missing, the police would probably look at Norton's place first.
Norton said the regulations say he cannot pick up the plastic recyclables at night. Jensen said the regulation stipulates that junk cannot be bought between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.
``The ordinance alludes to things purchased between those hours, not the recyclables [Norton] collects under contracts with his suppliers,'' said Jensen.
Jensen said Norton was invited to participate on the committee, but hinged that participation on paying the $100 license fee first. Norton refused.
``I'm tired of playing games,'' said Norton. ``I've spent $1,300 to stay out of jail and I just want someone to tell me which law to break.''
Norton, who has hired an attorney, pleaded not guilty at his Oct. 24 arraignment before a Municipal Court judge.
``There's a place for a recycling business, we want it and need it,'' said Jensen. ``But, we can't ignore the public health and safety.''