“New York’s Appliances Caper” Is a Thing Now


The Times reports that “over the last several months,” more than 22,000 New Yorkers have called the sanitation department to pick up their old fridges, A/C units, and freezers. But in more than half of those cases, the appliances disappeared before the city showed up to take them.

Who, then, the paper wonders, is collecting the discarded machines?
“Some in city government and the recycling industry,” apparently, have a sinister suspicion: “that a more organized enterprise may be at work.”
Silliness aside, apparently discarded appliances are big business, and companies who have recycling contracts with the city lose lots of money when they don’t have your trashed appliances to… do whatever it is they do with them:
Indeed, the big loser in what might be called New York’s Appliances Caper appears to be a multinational recycling conglomerate, a subsidiary of which has a large city contract to recycle the hundreds of thousands of tons of metal, glass and plastic generated each year by New Yorkers, including bulk metal, like appliances.
The subsidiary, Sims Municipal Recycling of New York L.L.C., estimates that the thefts, along with schemes involving redeemable bottles, are costing the company $2 million to $4 million a year.
Behind those losses, some in the industry — by some accounts an $85 billion annual business in 2008 — see the hand of organized crime, although no one can point to hard evidence. New York’s enduring and resourceful mob families have long played a role in both the recycling and scrap industries and have a knack for turning up where the money is.
But apparently, the mob theory isn’t that far-fetched. The Times tracked down an FBI agent who more-or-less confirmed that while the mob’s “longstanding involvement in the scrap industry” “had diminished a decade ago,” it’s “seen something of a resurgence in the last three years.” (Okay, well, there are worse things the mob could be involved in besides taking broken fridges, right?)
In any case, the city seems to take the whole thing pretty seriously, even when the appliance thieves aren’t members of organized crime but merely independent “urban hunter-gatherers.” The Department of Sanitation, for instance, tracks thefts using the city’s 311 hotline, and even has an undercover task-force dedicated to driving around and policing illegal dumping and the theft of recyclables:
But on most nights, the officers move through the city neighborhoods in small teams, working in plain clothes and unmarked cars, circling block after block in the areas they know provide good hunting for their targets, lying in wait and then pouncing, with lights and sirens, when they see someone remove material from curbside, which under law belongs to the city.