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Maryland Collaborators Attack Plastic Crate Theft

Jul 20, 2009

No More Plastic, Please!Clay Detlefsen, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs

By Clay Detlefsen, Vice President of Regulatory Affairs 

In 2008, a Maryland-based dairy processor got tired of losing nearly $1 million worth of plastic milk crates a year. He hired a private investigator to find out where they were going. Less than 20 miles away, a baker was experiencing a similar loss, and he, too, hired a private investigator. Unbeknownst to the dairyman and the baker, a major soda manufacturer had also hired a private investigator to find out what was happening to its plastic soda trays.

As the separate investigations proceeded, the investigators started to cross paths and compare leads. Eventually it became clear: Maryland was in the middle of a major multi-player plastic theft enterprise that spread into Virginia, Delaware and Washington, D.C. Thieves were driving around the multi-state area collecting bakery trays, milk crates, soda carriers, plastic pallets, totes and any plastic container they could get their hands on, then selling them to plastic recyclers.

This spring, the dairy, bakery and soda industries began collaborating, and the American Bakers Association and IDFA were asked to join in. The group started working with local law enforcement and senior government officials in an effort to develop a model plan of attack against what is estimated to be a $500-million a year plastic-theft crime wave. So far, a number of the runners have been arrested - 13 to be precise.

Last week, the combined effort in Maryland marked a significant advance: the execution of two separate search-and-seizure warrants against illicit Maryland recycling operations. Law enforcement did a wonderful job. Multiple trailer loads of bakery trays, milk crates, soda trays, pallets, postal tray and drugstore totes were found and seized.

One facility, which was shipping out three trailer loads of plastic per day at the peak of their illegal activity, now posts the sign shown.With the active support of local law enforcement, the Maryland group is considering lobbying for changes to laws that would make it easier to get the criminals.

Federal law enforcement and prosecutors have expressed some interest in this criminal activity, but are constrained by jurisdiction and case loads. Their message to industries that use plastic carriers is to collaborate with each other, work with their state law enforcement agencies and don't rule out civil actions against bad actors. As state and local arrests and prosecutions escalate, federal law enforcement may be able to join in, especially where the criminal enterprises cross state lines.

Has the problem based in Maryland been resolved? No, but with more search-and-seizure warrants in the wings, proactive law enforcement and prosecution, the bad guys are on notice: No more plastic, please.


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