New law helps track down plastic pallet thieves - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

New law helps track down plastic pallet thieves

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Posted: Friday, May 20, 2011 2:11 pm

They're often left unattended behind supermarkets and convenience stores.

But the problem of people stealing those plastic pallets used to deliver everything from soda pop to bread has gotten so bad that companies convinced state legislators to create a new law designed to help them track down the thieves.

How bad? Lobbyist Mike Gardner estimates Arizona firms are losing about $3 million a year.

It's already illegal for anyone to possess one of those pallets. That became a crime the same time lawmakers, responding to concerns by Arizona dairies, made it a crime to possess milk crates stamped with the owner's name.

The difference here is that those milk crates as often as not wound up as bookshelves and furniture in apartments.

But these pallets lack that functionality. What they do have is some cash value at recycling centers.

John Kalil, vice president of the bottling company that bears his family name, said stores tend to leave these pallets outside, waiting to be retrieved.

"At night, people go out and scavenge and sell them," he said. "If you're unemployed, lack cash, have a pickup truck, you're in business. We need something to shut them down."

That something is where the new law comes in.

Beginning this summer, there will be new restrictions on any firm in the business of recycling, shredding, reselling or destroying pallets. If they buy more than five at any one time, and those items have a company logo, the buyers have to get identification from the sellers. That includes not only a name and phone number but also the seller's driver's license or other ID as well as the license plate number of the vehicle used to deliver the items.

Companies have to keep the records on hand for a year and be open during regular business hours so police can examine the paperwork.

Gardner said the idea is to lead police back to those who are selling the items in the first place.

Kalil figures his firm alone spends $700,000 a year replacing pallets that disappear.

The measure provides similar requirements for anyone purchasing wooden pallets. But the cutoff for having to get identification is at 10. There also is nothing requiring these items be stamped with the name of the company that owns it.

The legislation drew a number of questions and some opposition.

Rep. Jim Weiers, R-Phoenix, said he did not understand why, if it is illegal to possess those plastic pallets in the first place, recyclers should be allowed to buy them at all.

Part of the reason, Gardner said, is the Arizona legislation was modeled after similar laws in other states. They also have a minimum threshold before reporting is required.

He also said there is precedent in Arizona law for the idea of some starting point.

For example, scrap metal dealers do not need to report purchases of items until the price reaches $25. That law was passed after the price of copper skyrocketed and thieves were stealing copper wire and even copper tubing from air conditioning units.

Finally, at some point those plastic pallets do outlive their useful life and are recycled by the original companies.

Not everyone was convinced.

"This is kind of a ‘nanny' bill to me," said Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction.

Fillmore, who owns a chain of retail stores selling fireplaces and evaporative coolers, said these items often are delivered to him on wooden pallets.

"Occasionally I'll give them away," he said. And sometimes, Fillmore said, he will sell them himself.

Fillmore said he believes the penalties - up to $30,000 in some cases - are not merited.

He was not convinced to vote for the measure despite assurance by Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, that anyone selling the pallets need not prove ownership but only provide identification.

Others were more enthusiastic supporters of the idea.

Sen. Al Melvin, R-Tucson, said the state has lost more than 300,000 jobs.

"The first order of business is to protect those businesses that operate here now," he said.

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