It was a sunny afternoon in the Fall of 2018 when the Houston Police Department, along with the Texas Retailers Association (TRA) Plastic Crate Task Force, busted an illegal recycling grinder.
Overall, the sting operation seized enough stolen plastic crates, trays, and pallets to fill nine 18-wheelers. The plastic products targeted? Ordinary delivery crates from grocery stores, beverage companies, and bakeries that carry everyday goods to retailers. And criminals have found a way to make a pretty profit off this seemingly harmless act.
If you’re scratching your head about why this is even a thing that’s happening, the TRA has been tracking illegal recycling grinders due to the impact plastic crate thieves have on their businesses. This is because the theft of these plastic delivery crates can add up big time: In the HPD/TRA Plastic Crate Task Force bust back in 2018, the amount of plastic recovered was valued at roughly $130,891.14.
Apparently the Legislature agreed that this was growing into a major issue, one that costs U.S. companies upwards of millions of dollars per year. Texas-based Bimbo Bakeries USA, the maker of Mrs. Baird’s products, has lost over $25 million in stolen equipment from plastic pirates.
This past legislative session, H.B. 4584, effective September 1, creates a Class C criminal offense for recycling purchasers who buy stolen crates and pellets. While this doesn’t necessarily thwart the thieves’ efforts to stop stealing in the first place, it does make it more difficult to sell their stolen products to recyclers for the cash. According to the bill, recyclers must ask for proper licenses and proof-of-ownership documentation or receive a $700 fine. The bill also outlaws recyclers paying cash on the spot to people attempting to sell any type of plastic products.
For a bill that directly provides a solution to crimes that are harmful to our communities and local stores, it’s hard to believe anyone in the legislature would be against laws helpful to Texas businesses. Yet several Freedom Caucus members, including Rep. Cain (R-Deer Park), former Rep. Stickland (R-Bedford), and Rep. Tinderholt (R-Arlington), voted against the measure.
TRA spokesperson Justin Williamson reports that some changes can be made on the retailer side to help combat against these plastic pirates: Switching to an environmentally-friendly option of reusable containers made from heavy cardboard. Williamson said that “retailers believed they were solving another issue. They were doing the right thing, the green thing.”