Skip

Who, then, is stealing the household appliances of New York City?
December 14, 2010 1:39 PM   Subscribe

But the sheer magnitude of the thefts — 11,528 appliances, to be precise — over a relatively brief period suggests to some in city government and the recycling industry that a more organized enterprise may be at work as well.Who, then, is stealing the household appliances of New York City?
posted by R. Mutt (52 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Bad headline. These appliances are being "stolen" out of the trash heap.

(Also, Occam's Razor: We're in a recession; it's poor people. One man's discarded Fridge That Sometimes Leaks Water is another man's Fridge That Actually Keeps Food Cold)
posted by schmod at 1:43 PM on December 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


Call Batman!
posted by outlandishmarxist at 1:43 PM on December 14, 2010


Theft kemosabe?
posted by 2bucksplus at 1:45 PM on December 14, 2010


in my neighborhood, if an appliance, or any other scrap metal is left out on the curb it's typically gone in less than 12 hours. when I put out my old oven, at 9 PM on a sunday, it was gone within 20 min. it's not "organized crime" it's dudes driving the streets in beat up old pickups looking for anything that looks scrappable. i even had my old, steel frame windows carted off by a guy with a bike trailer in 6 separate trips
posted by Dr. Twist at 1:46 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anything on the sidewalk in NYC is fair game to take. Ain't stealing.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:46 PM on December 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't think they sell any new furniture or appliances in NYC anymore. I think we all just go around picking up what other people have discarded, in an endless circle of life. Don't ask how much I own is from the street. Alas, the recent bedbug madness has probably put a damper on people's enthusiasm for used goods.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 1:48 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


So instead of a large corporation squirreling away a huge profit at the taxpayer's expense, the working class of the city are earning a living, consuming, and providing the same service more or less free.

Fucking horrible crime that is.
posted by clarknova at 1:50 PM on December 14, 2010 [19 favorites]


I actually prefer people take things away from the curb instead of letting it go to landfill. Out here on our bi-annual street cleanup, there will be two weeks of scavenging things that wind up not filling landfill space. At least then someone can take it for scrap or recycling and get a little extra out of it.
posted by msbutah at 1:50 PM on December 14, 2010


They should try putting surveillance cameras up around around the city.
posted by jessssse at 1:50 PM on December 14, 2010


Deepening the mystery, these were neither the latest Sub Zero behemoths, sleek Bosch nor stylish retro Smeg refrigerators.

As a Red Dwarf fan from way back, I LOLed.1
posted by googly at 1:55 PM on December 14, 2010 [4 favorites]


Isn't this "phenomenon" merely a version of recycling? One man's trash is another man's treasure.
posted by cool breeze at 1:58 PM on December 14, 2010


So, the article seemed to say, unknown persons or possibly the mob were making inroads on recyclable scrap that the city had deemed the property of its contractor(s) once it was thrown out. Correct? Therefore this scrap has some value.

That being the case, perhaps the city/the contractor could take some steps to secure its property better, by more timely pickups or some other method. Expecting property of value to just sit unguarded and un-taken on the curbs of a major city is, perhaps, not the wisest business model. Whether or not the mob is involved.
posted by emjaybee at 2:01 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hmmm. Does this really count as theft or loss of revenue the recycling contractor? (and maybe the city as well) I think Robin Hood might approve of this scheme!
posted by Ranindaripley at 2:02 PM on December 14, 2010


So instead of a large corporation squirreling away a huge profit at the taxpayer's expense, the working class of the city are earning a living, consuming, and providing the same service more or less free.

It's a problem because the scavengers aren't taking all the garbage, just the valuable garbage. The revenue stream for the garbage collectors is the fees paid via the taxpayers plus the revenue from recycling. If the latter goes away, the former has to increase to cover the shortfall.
posted by electroboy at 2:04 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


We need to go after those bigwigs who go around stealing redeemable cans and bottles for huge profits.
posted by snofoam at 2:06 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


A bunch or two of years ago, for a brief time, scrap paper was worth actual money. Every night/way early morning on recycling day goes with vans would drive around picking up all the very conveniently bundled up stacks of NYTimes/Daily News/NYPost/Newsday to resell to 'pulpers.' It was kind of cool, kind of nuts. Also, what with the value of copper (a motor has lots of copper, bigger motor, more copper), yeah, appliances are money.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:06 PM on December 14, 2010


the general manager of the company’s municipal recycling division, Thomas Outerbridge

I just learned that the Outerbridge Crossing is named after a person instead of just for being, you know, an outer bridge.
posted by exogenous at 2:09 PM on December 14, 2010 [6 favorites]


They should look at their own shop, and whether someone answering the phone lines passes the best tips on to a squad of co-conspirators. That was certainly the case with the scrap hauled from the World Trade Centers. It was an organized inside job, and much, if not most, of it disappeared.

But you do have to be fast here in NYC. Last night I spotted a bunch of pretty clean lumber across the street at 2 AM. I tarried to glance at a post or two here, and in 15 minutes all the 2 x 6's were gone leaving only the 2 X 4's.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:17 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Look what's happened to the price of scrap copper in the last month. There's gold in them thar garbages!
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:22 PM on December 14, 2010


Okay, read this article and had the following thoughts:

NYC signed a contract with a conglomerate to handle recycling. Significant percentage of the metal disappears before city workers get it. Conglomerate is short $2-4 million. Arrest the little guys, take their trucks and metal. Blame the mob. Wasted a few minutes reading another mediocre NYT article and a few more commenting. Back to work.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 2:24 PM on December 14, 2010


Overheard at the World Trade Center clean-up site: "So's I gets da big truck a scrap metal, and I put's it on da side for Vinny, but before I can give it to 'im, da fucker steals it! Steals 'is own fuckin' scrap, da fuckin' idiot!"
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:29 PM on December 14, 2010 [9 favorites]


clarknova: "So instead of a large corporation squirreling away a huge profit at the taxpayer's expense, the working class of the city are earning a living, consuming, and providing the same service more or less free.

Fucking horrible crime that is
"

It's probably reasonable to guess that these scavengers aren't handling the disposal of the toxic chlorofluorocarbons as carefully the government/contractors/corporations do...
posted by Perplexity at 2:30 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


In los angeles my fridge died and I bought one off a friend. I told him I was going to call the city and have them come pick it up... he said just put it on the street someone will take it.

It was gone in less than 30 minutes.

It is loss of revenue because the city generally charges a pickup fee, AND gets to recycle the appliance. According to the article these are people who have called the city to pickup and the appliance is not there... so:

11,528 appliances X $50 a pickup X the time your employees waste driving around town to pickups that are no longer there to get. It adds up.
posted by outsider at 2:33 PM on December 14, 2010


The last time I put things on the curb in NYC I had people asking about it items before I even set them down. One object, an old TV, went directly from my apartment to two guys from the neighborhood. People started asking what I was bringing out next, and good for them! Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:38 PM on December 14, 2010


Or, alternatively, don't throw away perfectly good things without trying to find a home for them first.
posted by electroboy at 2:42 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think they sell any new furniture or appliances in NYC anymore. I think we all just go around picking up what other people have discarded, in an endless circle of life.

This was true in the past, but then came: The Bedbugs.
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:45 PM on December 14, 2010


I'm pretty sure this is where my landlord got the appliances for my apartment. The stove is mysteriously missing an oven rack and has badly mismatched knobs. And the fridge sounds like Klaus Schulze on bad acid: NNNNNNNEEEEEEEEEEEUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUEEEEENNNNNNNNNNNNEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUU
all night long. And it never stops running for more than 30 seconds.

Somewhere deep in Brooklyn, someone who knows a lot of cheap landlords is running a good business.
posted by Erroneous at 3:07 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is really a bad thing if all those old refrigerators are having their freon released into the atmosphere instead of being recaptured. I like the ozone layer.
posted by octothorpe at 3:12 PM on December 14, 2010


Unfortunately the only person who would know the truth and publish it, is in jail.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 3:55 PM on December 14, 2010


Sorry guys, I've got em. you can have them back tomorrow, stop by my place.
posted by Ad hominem at 4:01 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Toronto has something called Community Recycling Days where people take various types of waste for proper disposal. Into the electronics bins goes thousands of dollars worth of repairable equipment. Routers with bad power adaptors, good power adaptors with bad routers, LCDs with a bad cap, Computers with dead hard drives, and on and on. All of that stuff is piled in a bin and hauled away. Much of it smashed to bits before it even hits the highway.

I've tried on a couple of occasions to recover items from said bins. One time a guy said I could take a couple of things, but "shhhhh". Another time they just snickered. Most of the time it is just such an assembly line operation that you can hardly stop somebody to talk.

Community? It is really sad and disgusting.
posted by Chuckles at 4:03 PM on December 14, 2010


Some friends in New York rented a raw commercial space, and wanted to put a kitchen and full bathroom on the roof in what had been a pigeon coop. The hippy contractor scoped it out, got on his bike, and crisscrossed the streets of the Upper East Side. He had everything he needed, toilet, sinks, bathtub, glass shower enclosure and stove, (no refrigerator) that same night.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:05 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, anybody know anything about scrap prices on the ground? Like, enamelled copper vs. raw copper vs. insulated wire. How much are lead acid batteries worth? How about populated PCBs? Of course it all varies enormously, but I've found it pretty hard to research. Hard to know if the local scrapper is ripping you a new one without the information :P
posted by Chuckles at 4:06 PM on December 14, 2010


Q: How can you tell when your society is broken?

A: When it allows people to put their trash out on the street, and then fines other people for cleaning it up.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 4:09 PM on December 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


MONGO! I fuckin' love NYC, especially when it hits the shits. The survival/coping mechanisms of the REAL new Yorkers shine during times like these. Your move, latter day Williamsburg fauxhemians. It's not about being cool anymore; it's about SURVIVAL.
posted by KingEdRa at 4:11 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


electroboy: It's a problem because the scavengers aren't taking all the garbage, just the valuable garbage. The revenue stream for the garbage collectors is the fees paid via the taxpayers plus the revenue from recycling. If the latter goes away, the former has to increase to cover the shortfall.

Sure.. Except that the scavengers are doing it far more efficiently than the city can possibly hope to.

octothorpe: This is really a bad thing if all those old refrigerators are having their freon released into the atmosphere instead of being recaptured. I like the ozone layer.

Sure.. Except that all those old refrigerators and air conditioners are still going to big scrap yards. Just via different carriers. The disposal technique is going to be identical most of the time.
posted by Chuckles at 4:13 PM on December 14, 2010


I blame Tim Hunkin - seen here in The Secret Life of the Refrigerator (best bit here)
posted by rongorongo at 4:17 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sure.. Except that the scavengers are doing it far more efficiently than the city can possibly hope to.

Efficient in what sense? The resources per unit is probably a lot less efficient, given that they have to tool around in a small pickup until they see something out at the curb, drive it to somewhere they can strip it out, then find someplace to dump the unsellable scrap (vacant lots and parks, in my neighborhood).

Sure.. Except that all those old refrigerators and air conditioners are still going to big scrap yards.

If you read the article you'd know that the city sends techs out to recover the freon, but they're frequently taken before they get there.
posted by electroboy at 4:41 PM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Efficient in every sense I can think of. More efficient transportation, certainly--I dispute your claim wholeheartedly about that--they have far more incentive to push the limits of efficiency than the city workers do, even when city workers are private contractors. They also require less pay for themselves and no management time or office space.

Regarding the "freon", what the article actually says:
The removal of the toxic gas is required by Environmental Protection Agency regulations, and specially trained sanitation crews respond to the requests, draw the materials out of the appliances and leave them for removal by the department’s regular recycling pickup.
So, you question my assertion about efficiency, and then site this evidence of horrendous waste in the very next sentence. Do other cities do the draining at the curbside?

That draining at curbside statement makes me wonder about the credibility of the article, actually.. I mean, they call it "toxic gas", which is pretty much completely false. In some cases dangerous in a global sense due to atmospheric ozone and all that, but not toxic. CFCs aren't even that common in discarded appliances nowadays, because they haven't been produced in 15 years or more. Recovery instead of release is still important even without CFCs, but I think the issue is trumpeted with ulterior motive.
posted by Chuckles at 5:26 PM on December 14, 2010


Update: What happened in the last hour? I'm building a couple of bathrooms in a gallery space just south of Canal, in NYC. On review of the structure, it seemed I was short a couple of pieces of wood to frame it out tonight. SO, I just took a walk and wandered around SOHO. I came back with 3 2X4 by eight foot pieces of lumber, and... a brand new, in the box, Black and Decker bread making machine.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:58 PM on December 14, 2010


and... a brand new, in the box, Black and Decker bread making machine.

I use whole wheat flour in mine, and it has ground the surface finish off of the stirrer (along with some of the no-stick finish on the pan), which has me slightly worried. People used to think Aluminum was linked to Alzheimer's.. Wikipedia says this:
Some studies have shown an increased risk of developing AD with environmental factors such the intake of metals, particularly aluminium,[133][134] or exposure to solvents.[135] The quality of some of these studies has been criticised,[136] and other studies have concluded that there is no relationship between these environmental factors and the development of AD.[137][138][139][140]
Anybody know what the current thinking is?
posted by Chuckles at 6:05 PM on December 14, 2010


I do know that aluminum is found postmortem in AD, but there is that whole, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink it," thing that the body does, where just adding substance X does not mean that substance X will go where you think it will.

But thanks for the warning, Chuckles, there's no wear there now, but I'll look out for it. I can imagine using a bread machine just to perfume the air.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:42 PM on December 14, 2010


rongorongo - Thanks for the Tim Hunkin link! What a great show.
posted by sneebler at 9:49 PM on December 14, 2010


This is how it's done. Fuck city hall.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:26 PM on December 14, 2010


BTW, Free geek has spread all over North America, its not just in Portland. The place to take your electronic recyclables, ( not everything, but they will direct you appropriately for things they don't take) and a good place to pick up inexpensive stuff as well. I mentioned them here before. Fabulous organization. Because of the nature of my business I encounter old equipment all the time, and have probably donated at least a hundred systems to them. The best score was just this weekend actually, a 3 year old Samsung 40" LCD that the power supply had failed on. The look on the volunteers' faces when I hauled it in there was priceless. They had it on the bench before i got out of the shop.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 10:51 PM on December 14, 2010


Concurring with prior posts: if it's on the sidewalk it's free for the taking. When I lived in NYC, I was always surprised how well leaving a note on a piece of furniture (e.g. "Please don't take") seemed to work, at least on some of the quieter sidestreets.
posted by pompelmo at 11:13 PM on December 14, 2010


Deepening the mystery, these were neither the latest Sub Zero behemoths, sleek Bosch nor stylish retro Smeg refrigerators.

On the other hand, anybody know anything about scrap prices on the ground?

I have just got in from delivering two dead fridges (one old, one newish) and an old washing machine to a scrap metal bloke a couple of suburbs over in exchange for the use of his trailer and a dump pass (to get rid of some non-recyclable junk).

First up, there was definitely a lot more metal in the old fridge than the new one. Both required a trolley, but the old one was a nightmare to move. I assume the old one would be worth considerably more for scrap.

Secondly, the value of a dump pass on the black market here is about ten dollars less than the dump fees would be. Say $15-20.

So, at least in Perth Western Australia, scrap value of two fridges and a washing machine has to be over $15.
posted by Ahab at 12:00 AM on December 15, 2010


We're in a recession; it's poor people. One man's discarded Fridge That Sometimes Leaks Water is another man's Fridge That Actually Keeps Food Cold

The only thing that makes this odd to me is that it's slightly more than half the appliances that are being put out. I mean, sure, out of the 22,000 pickups that New Yorkers request, I'm sure that some percentage of the items are scavenged before the city can get out there to collect. But half? That's not a passer-by who took a refrigerator repair class at the vo-tech and figures he can bring an Upper East Sider's fridge back from the dead. That's an organized scavenging ring.

Not that I personally think there's anything wrong with that. But I can see how it could be sort of a problem for the city if they've contracted with X firm using last year's numbers, or if they're wasting a ton of money going out on pickups and for nothing.
posted by Sara C. at 1:06 AM on December 15, 2010 [1 favorite]


More efficient transportation, certainly

How so? The city workers have a predefined stops and have trucks that can carry more cargo than a small operator, giving the city a clear advantage in weight hauled/unit of fuel. Also, one of the people caught appeared to be coming from Pennsylvania to scavenge. Driving a truck from anywhere outside the city is going to put a huge dent in the amount of fuel used.
posted by electroboy at 6:35 AM on December 15, 2010


My wife has come to love the alley behind our house. It's amazing - you leave stuff out, it goes away (Except for that one really ugly desk)! Owing to the accents of the guys that drive around with POS pickup trucks, we call it the "scrap meetle miracle". I put my old water heater out there at 12:20 on Saturday. THe weather was 25F, looking nasty. By 1:00 it was gone.

Awesome.
posted by notsnot at 7:05 AM on December 15, 2010


chuckles, last time I brought stuff in (Monday)
$1.040/lb insulated wire
$0.220/lb lead-acid batteries
$2.000/lb populated boards (>=8 ICs/board)

Last time I brought in enameled copper (stripped from transformers and inductors) they let me throw it in with the rest of the #2 copper for the same price; don't remember what it was exactly, but around $2/lb. I take my stuff to a processor that I'm pretty sure sends it off to another one, so I probably get less than full rates, but it's convenient and they have helpful staff. I brought in some CRTs and the kind lady working they made sure I already took out the degaussing coil and told me what I could separate and bring back. This site also has some indexed scrap prices.

The PCBs went up, I used to only get $1.5/lb. I tend to take apart a lot of electronics and various devices for projects and finally decided to get rid of stuff I hadn't used yet. I figured I'd take it to the recycling place so I'd at least avoid the guilty-conscience "this is going to end up in a landfill" feeling. When I found out what they paid for the "high density" PCBs, I nearly shitted. Only $0.030/lb for "low density", but it's better than nothing. I walked out with $60, a clear conscience, and a greater level of respect for recycling. I've been doing it regularly since then and haven't gotten less than $50 in a trip; it beats the hell out of cans (although I bring those in, too).
posted by nTeleKy at 11:18 AM on December 15, 2010


Thanks, that's fantastic information. Like you, I'm really amazed at the PCB price! That makes any old dead motherboard well worth picking up. I'm sure they don't even mind if I take the caps off first :)

I ended up buying a load of surplus equipment from Environment Canada recently, and that drove my supply of stuff to recycle into the critical range. I sent some scrap away with my Mom (antique dealer, sometimes does copper/silver), but without knowing anything it is tough to know what's worth separating, and what isn't worth taking at all.

Now I just have to find a scrap yard worth going to :) Being downtown (Toronto) and on bicycle only makes that a little tough, but there are a couple in range.
posted by Chuckles at 1:48 PM on December 15, 2010


« Older "The signs of collusion between the criminal class...   |   Amateur Films of 1920's China Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post