Here's an interesting Associated Press story about how many plastic milk crates get stolen each year -- both for college kids' dorm furniture and to be recycled. Some of the numbers related to the plastics recycling angle look spurious, so I suggest taking them with a grain of salt. The story says U.S. dairies lose about $80 million annually to milk crate theft, and that one company in California has hired a private detective to track down lost crates. The story's sources blame the problem on recyclers in China.
"We saw them disappearing into this black hole," said Rachel Kaldor, executive director of the Dairy Institute, a trade group in Sacramento. "We just don't know who's stealing these crates off the loading docks."Here's the first part that doesn't make sense. The story says consumers pay as much as $10 for crates at places like the Container Store. Yet the dairies think most of the crates end up at recyclers who pay only pennies per pound.
"If it were just college kids taking them, the dormitories would be overflowing with milk cases," said Stephen Schaffer, general manager of Alta Dena Dairy near Los Angeles.That doesn't seem right. If you could sell a crate for $10, why would you sell it for a buck or two to a recycler? The California dairy industry is so convinced that recyclers are the problem that it lobbied the state legislature to pass a law that allows dairies to sue recyclers accused of accepting stolen crates. Yet, so far, no cases have been filed.
After the law went into effect last January, the Dairy Institute hired private investigator Chuck Wall to educate recyclers about documenting purchases and to conduct sting operations against suspected offenders.Wall said he helped recover 24,000 pounds of ground-up plastic from crates belonging to dairies, bakeries and beverage companies at one recycler -- but the story says that's "at least a quarter-million dollars of plastics." That's either a typo or a gross exaggeration. I think 24,000 pounds of HDPE regrind is worth, at most $18,000 -- probably much, much less. Anyway, if you know someone who has stolen milk crate furniture in their apartment, you can turn them in to the Alta Dena Dairy's "milk crate abuse" hotline, at (800) 457-6688. Operators are standing by...