Family Operating Recycling Centers Fraudulently Redeemed $7.6 Million: Smuggled Cans From Outside

Family Operating Recycling Centers Fraudulently Redeemed $7.6 Million: Smuggled Cans From Outside
Cover Image Source: Pexels/Julia M Cameron

Recycling is a crucial aspect of environmental conservation, and it plays a significant role in reducing litter and waste in our communities. States like California take recycling seriously, with robust programs in place to incentivize citizens to recycle their beverage containers responsibly. However, the recent discovery of a massive recycling fraud in Riverside County, California, has shed light on the need for vigilance in protecting recycling systems.

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Eight family members who operated recycling centers in Riverside County are at the center of a staggering $7.6 million recycling fraud investigation. This extensive scheme involved the illegal smuggling of 178 tons of empty beverage containers from Arizona into Riverside County, California. The purpose of this elaborate operation was to defraud California's Beverage Container Recycling Program, which rewards individuals for recycling eligible beverage containers.

Image Source: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels
Image Source: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels

CalRecycle, the agency responsible for overseeing California's Beverage Container Recycling Program, took a strong stance against the fraud. Director Rachel Machi Wagoner emphasized that California will not tolerate fraud that jeopardizes the integrity of its recycling deposit system, which has been successful in keeping billions of bottles and cans out of landfills and littered across the state.

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Image Source: Pexels/
mali maeder
Image Source: Pexels/ mali maeder

Attorney General Rob Bonta echoed these sentiments, expressing gratitude to the investigators and partners involved in uncovering the fraudulent scheme. The recycling program is funded by consumers, and its purpose is to protect the environment and communities. "Those who undermine its integrity through criminal operations will be held accountable, ensuring that funds belong to California consumers who genuinely recycle," said Bonta.

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The Department of Justice (DOJ) launched an investigation into the Riverside County recycling centers in 2022. Over an eight-month period, agents discovered that the operators illegally redeemed $7.6 million by smuggling aluminum cans and PET plastic bottles from Arizona. The charges against the eight defendants were filed on July 25, and search warrants were executed at six locations, resulting in the seizure of $1,061,499 and additional materials.

It's essential to remember that all suspects involved in the fraud investigation are presumed innocent until proven guilty. The legal process will determine their guilt or innocence as the case progresses.


The Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act of 1986 was a significant step taken by California to encourage recycling and reduce litter. Under this act, beverage containers were given a financial value, providing consumers with a 5- or 10-cent return on eligible beverage containers returned for recycling. Since its inception, Californians have responsibly recycled over 483 billion bottles and cans.

CalRecycle employs several measures to safeguard California's Beverage Container Recycling Program and prevent fraud. These measures include:

Interagency Agreements: CalRecycle collaborates with the California Department of Justice and the California Department of Food and Agriculture to combat recycling fraud. This partnership has resulted in over 357 arrests since 2010.

Enhanced Pre-certification Training: Recycling centers undergo comprehensive training on operational requirements, including documentation and enforcement of daily load limits. This helps deter fraudulent activities.

Image Source: Pexels/onurdongel
Image Source: Pexels/onurdongel

Probationary Reviews and Site Inspections: Recycling centers are subject to probationary reviews and on-site inspections to ensure compliance with program rules.

Certified Processor Oversight: CalRecycle conducts load inspections of recycling center shipments to verify their legitimacy.

Import Material Tracking: Reports on imported materials are tracked for anyone hauling more than 25 pounds of aluminum, bimetal, or plastic, or over 250 pounds of glass into California.

Internal Monitoring and Risk Assessment: Daily reimbursement claims are closely monitored, and post-payment reviews/investigations are conducted to prevent potential fraudulent activities.

Californians can actively participate in safeguarding the recycling program by reporting suspected recycling fraud or bottle redemption violations. They can contact CalRecycle through the toll-free number 1-866-CANLOAD (226-5623) or email


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