It's modern day alchemy. But instead of turning lead into gold, they turn plastic into cash, and lots of it.
And just like alchemy way back in the day, it's illegal.
Folks have been known, for years, to move bottles and cans from non-bottle bill states to bottle-bill states to collect deposits that were never actually paid on the containers.
Now comes word that a Compton, Calif., man is in hot water for allegedly doing just that.
Cesar Vargas was busted by California Department of Justice Recycling Fraud Team — yep, there is such a thing — at an agricultural checkpoint in Riverside, Calif. He allegedly had a tractor-trailer truck full of imported, used beverage containers, according to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, or CalRecycle.
Seems like agents from the fraud squad were conducting surveillance on recycling centers in Phoenix when they spotted the same truck being loaded at what it called an “undocumented business” in Phoenix.
Three hours later in Riverside County, inspectors found nearly 7,000 pounds of plastic and aluminum beverage cans, CalRecycle said. And the driver could not produce the legally required imported materials paperwork that's used to fight redemption fraud in California.
Scamming bottle deposits is nothing new, and there's even a famous television comedy that poked fun at the issue years ago.
Kramer and Newman, on Seinfeld, famously tried to make some extra cash by taking bottle bill containers from New York to Michigan. The boys considered using a tractor-trailer truck before deciding that wouldn't work.
“An 18-wheeler is no good. Too much overhead. Permits. Weigh stations. Tolls. You're way out of your league,” Kramer told Newman.
Well, they end up scamming use of a mail truck to make a run from New York — where the deposit is 5 cents — to Michigan — where the deposit is 10 cents. But they wound up ditching the bottles and cans out of the back door while driving in Ohio.
Why? You'll just have to go back and watch — it's a two-part episode from 1996, and some clips are on YouTube.
As for Vargas, he's scheduled for arraignment on Aug. 18, CalRecycle reported. He was arrested on recycling fraud and attempted grand theft charges. And his truck has been impounded.