Is it wrong to let scavengers take recyclable materials out of my blue cart at the curb?

Sometimes scavengers take cans and bottles out of my blue recycling cart before the truck comes around to pick them up. Is there anything wrong with letting these people take these items? Who owns the recyclables when they are at the curb?

The theft of recyclable materials from homes and businesses is a type of organized crime that has the potential to increase costs for all of us.

Recyclable materials at your workplace or home belong to you. You may choose to take your cans and bottles to a recycling buyback center and be paid for their California Redemption Value (CRV) or you may choose to put your recyclables in a commercial-sized recycling bin or blue cart from Napa Recycling & Waste Services (NRWS) and leave it for pickup. Once those materials are in the bin or blue cart, only you or NRWS have the right to remove them.


The City of Napa estimates thieves may be making off with as much as a half-million dollars a year worth of recyclable materials. Like any criminal, these people target the most valuable products – in the case of recyclables that means aluminum and glass. And we’re not talking about a few people occasionally taking a few cans here or there. We’re talking about organized thieves with trucks, driving the City’s collection routes a few hours ahead of the authorized crews from NRWS. They’re stealing the most valuable materials and selling them at recycling centers. These people are stealing from NRWS, the City, and ultimately from you.


How does this cost you money? NRWS processes and sells the recyclable materials, and the City gets 70¢ of every dollar from those sales. The City counts on revenues from the sale of recyclables to help pay for the cost of its solid waste management programs. Over time, the lost revenues may mean higher rates for collection of recycling and garbage.

The City Police Department is stepping up its efforts to catch these thieves. We need your help.  If you see anyone other than a uniformed NRWS driver in a NRWS truck handling your recycling, please don’t ignore it.  Instead, call the non-emergency police phone line at (707) 257-9223 or e-mail to report it.  If possible, jot down the license plate number and a brief description of the vehicle or take photos or video to share with our police officers.

There is also a scam underway to persuade businesses to donate recyclables to “charities.” While you are entitled to donate your recyclable materials to charitable causes, be aware that the request you get may not be legitimate.  Before agreeing to allow a charity to collect your recyclables, we encourage you to get the full name of the organization and check it out.  To save you time, the City will be happy to check the legal status of any charity to make sure they are registered with the California Secretary of State and the Attorney General’s register of charitable organizations.  Just call (707) 257-9223 or e-mail


Department: Public Works
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