With so many vehicles prowling neighborhoods on garbage night, you probably wouldn’t think that garbage picking is illegal in Buffalo and some surrounding suburbs.
It is.
Some ordinances not only prohibit unauthorized removal of trash, but go as far as establishing the municipality as owner, once trash and recyclables are placed in the public right of way. Recycling is a source of revenue for them, as well.
And while those who violate the municipal laws aren’t pursued by police with the same zeal as used for violent criminals, not all scavengers escape the law.
Don DalFonso, a Buffalo resident who collects scrap metal, will be in Tonawanda Town Court later this month. He was on McConkey Drive on Oct. 1 when he was cited for “interference with waste material set out for collection.”
DalFonso admits being a repeat offender. He said that during his Oct. 1 encounter with police, an officer said: “We told you before you’re not supposed to be in the town. We don’t want you in the town.”
There are six to eight other “regulars” in the town whom DalFonso said he recognizes by their vehicles. “They don’t get arrested,” said DalFonso, who maintains he’s being singled out by police.
But police records indicate otherwise.
Since Jan. 1, 2004, 49 appearance tickets have been issued, according to Lt. Nicholas A. Bado, a police department spokesman. There have been seven so far this year.
Penalties begin with a written warning. For a second violation within 12 months, there’s a fine of $50. That increases with each subsequent violation within the same 12-month period.
“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” said Bado, citing disturbances caused by the collectors’ vehicles and the mess they sometimes leave behind after picking through the piles.
Further, “We have been able to link people allegedly out garbage picking to other crimes,” he said. “It’s something we do keep an eye on.”
Cheektowaga police have responded to eight calls about garbage pickers since 2010, but nobody has been charged, according to Capt. James Speyer, a department spokesman.
“In those cases, the officer either couldn’t find the individual or warned the individual and sent them on their way,” the captain said. “A lot of people don’t know it’s illegal.”
If found guilty in Cheektowaga, “scavengers” face a mandatory fine of $250.
Amherst police have responded to relatively few calls about garbage pickers in the past several years, with just two tickets issued in 2011 for code violations, according to Detective Sgt. Daniel L. Lubick.
In each of the four calls this year, officers just advised the individuals, he said.
The penalties in Amherst begin with a written warning for a first offense. Second offenses within 12 months result in a fine between $50 and $100, and it escalates from there.
“You talk to the people who put [recyclables] out – they don’t care who gets it,” said DalFonso. “Those ordinances are a joke.”