Recycling wars in our alleys – from trash to cash?
by Bianca Koch
Published - 04/17/13 - 03:10 PM | 163998 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
An unidentified recycler cashes in at an Old Town recycling center. Photo by Bianca 
Koch I The Beacon
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What used to help some folks to a little extra “green” in their pockets’ seems to have become a competitive 24/7 alley race.

Strategic canning -- a rat race-like hunt for recyclable beverage containers through residential and city refuse bins seems to have stepped up into a popular, tax-free, cash-paying occupation.

What was once just a quick buck or two are over, said most old-school “canners’ [container collectors].

“The ‘canning-monsters’ have taken over,” says longtime local ‘canner’ Thomas J. Rutowski, known as “OB Tommy,” referring to his new competition on wheels.

Tommy and a friend collect aluminum cans and plastic bottles daily, to ensure food, drink and cigarette money. That money is often their only source of income.

Tommy remembers when “canning” used to be quick and easy.

“I’d just walk up Newport Avenue every hour or so and grab them [the CRV containers] from the trashcans on the sidewalk and take them over to Miguel’s [Ocean Beach’s local recycling facility] to cash. No such luck, these days. It’s all ‘canned-out.’ Seems like every minute now, someone else turns those trashcans upside down, digging for stuff.”

Instead, OB Tommy and fellow local “canners” roam the alleys, day and night, rain or shine.

“Our local canning war is between 4:30 and 8:30 a.m. That’s when everybody and their brother are out. It’s a wrap if you’re not out ‘canning’ by 6:30 a.m,,” said Rutowski.

He remembers when people used to respect other peoples’ regular route.

“Now, everybody is everywhere,” he said. “If somebody sees you starting your route at 6:30 a.m., they will do your route at 6 a.m. the next day. Unfortunately, the ‘mega-canners’ have the better equipment.”

He refers to organized groups -- mostly Hispanics -- using trucks and vans with trailers, dollies, large plastic bins and flashlights at night.

“Those guys are hard to compete with,” said Rutowski. “They come out as early as 1:30 a.m., with five to six trucks going through every alley in OB and Point Loma.Two people in each vehicle. And they take the heavy bottles, too.”

According to Rutowski, most “foot-folk” won’t bother taking bottles. He speculates that each of the trucks bring in a daily value of $250 to $500, depending on the day of the week.

The beverage container refund value as of Jan. 1, 2013 varies by facility, per pound, between $1.42 to $1.59 for aluminum; $0.77 to $1.33 for plastics and $0.07 to $0.11 for glass.

Many collectors may not be aware of any existing laws, prohibiting the collection of refuse.

Sgt. Jack Knish said two code sections prohibit tampering with or removing refuse, the contents or any portion of it from the location it was placed at -- or from any refuse container -- is prohibited for any person other than the owner or an authorized person by law; prohibits the unauthorized collection, rummaging in, disturbing, interfering with or removing refuse or recyclable material from officially designated containers for any person other than the owner or an authorized person by law.

Knish said the sections cover both, refuse and recyclable materials.

Knish further informs that “those laws are generally only enforced while addressing a specific complaint.”

For general public inquiries on recycling contact, call CalRecycle at (800) 732-9253, or visit

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