31 arrested for $3.5m recycling fraud
California hopes to prosecute 31 people it believes were involved in a scam that saw millions of bottles and cans trucked in from neighbouring Nevada and Arizona to take advantage of the state's favourable recycling rules.
California is one of 11 US states to operate a bottle and can redemption programme that pays out cash based on the weight of recycled materials.
Arizona and Nevada do not run such programmes.
One of the three gangs is estimated to have 'imported' over 700 tonnes of glass and aluminium - enough to fill almost 500 articulated lorries.
Another brought cans across the state line before filling them with sand to boost their weight - and therefore the payment.
The third was caught by chance after state agents investigating another case of waste fraud spotted a truck filled with material for recycling heading into California from Nevada.
"These bands of thieves have been caught red-handed running tons of cans and bottles from across the state's border and fraudulently collecting money through the California Redemption Value program," said Attorney General Brown.
"Defrauding the state's recycling programme is not a way to make easy money."
While it might appear on face value to not matter where the material comes from, so long as it is recycled, California argues differently.
The programme is funded by an up-front tax on such containers, paid for at the till by consumers.
The funds raised are then recycled to pay for materials returned - if the materials are brought in from outside the state, the scheme loses money.
"Recycling fraud is a crime against California consumers and we take it very seriously," said Margo Reid Brown director of the body that administers the scheme, CalRecycle.
"Our inspectors work closely with state and local law enforcement to root out and prosecute criminals who steal the money used to repay Californians and support our state's recycling programs. These arrests are evidence that recycling fraud will not be tolerated."
California's program began in 1987, following legislation passed in 1986. Today, about 80 percent of bottles and 84 percent of aluminium cans purchased in the state are returned for recycling.
"Californians are doing a great job recycling their bottles and cans," added Attorney General Brown. "We don't want people intent on committing recycling fraud to harm a program that is working well."