Pallet and Container Theft Legislation

Unprotected pallets and containers left outside can be an easy target for thieves. Rick LeBlanc

With pallet and container theft amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars annually, (read more about the staggering cost of lost and stolen pallets and containers here) some companies, including beverage suppliers, a plastic pallet rental company, and others, have lobbied state governments to take action. Pallet and container theft legislation is in effect in several U.S. states to help enforcement agencies more effectively address this problem.

Some state legislation dates back more than 50 years while other legislation is still emerging as lawmakers look for solutions to this issue.

Such laws typically make the theft of pallets or containers illegal, and may also include the unlawful possession of proprietary containers. Legislation increasingly requires the purchasers of used pallets and containers to record and retain buyer information, such as driver’s permit and vehicle license plate numbers. The seller may also be required to show proof of pallet or container ownership before selling.

In recent years, related legislation has been introduced in Arizona (HB 2168), Maryland, and California (AB 2269). The Arizona legislation, for example, requires recyclers to maintain records for inspection by police. Violations of the requirements are classified as a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $30,000 for each violation. HB 2168 requires companies buying more than 10 wood or plastic bulk containers or pallets to record the name, addresses and telephone number of the seller.

Perceptions about the effectiveness of such legislation have been mixed. Due to the various components of maintaining an effective asset management program, legislation alone cannot be expected to unilaterally eliminate pallet and container theft in the absence of other components of effective asset management.

One particular issue of concern for pallet recyclers is that they accumulate used pallets, and they can inadvertently accumulate proprietary pallets that arrive in vanloads of pallets which they purchase. Although the situation has improved markedly over the last 20 years, there are still occasionally situation where recyclers have been raided and charged with possession of stolen pallets - their crime simply one of pulling the pallets out of a truckload of mixed pallets purchased. 

Nowadays, major pallet rental companies such as CHEP, PEO, and iGPS compensate recyclers a nominal amount for returning their pallets that have been recovered "out of network" or stray by the latter. 

And the U.S. Postal Service, which at times has been very aggressive in pursuing its lost pallets, now often takes a less adversarial and more collaborative approach. For example, at the International Plastics Showcase, USPS promoted a theme entitled, “Got It. Return It." 

USPS stressed to attendees that wrongful use or destruction of postal property is a federal crime, potentially leading to three years of jail time and fines for anyone convicted. USPS also recently released a video of a sting operation involving a postal truck driver.

A number of elements can be critical in the successful management of a reusable pallet or packaging program. Variables such as industry support and education, adequate policing, asset safeguarding behaviors, inventory control, executive support, program leadership, and staff training all can play pivotal roles in creating and maintaining a successful program.

“I am not going to tell you we can stop people from stealing things that have value,” Kaley Parkinson of Rehrig Pacific stated in another one of my articles. “If things have value, people will steal them. I can tell you that Al Capone is not going to knock over the grocery store to get the reusable assets inside. They aren’t that valuable. They steal them because no one cares about them. It is a crime of opportunity and they are there for the taking.”

Information about several state laws can be found at the Harrington Group website.

In spite of efforts by enforcement officials and private investigators working for packaging owners, the theft problem endures, as evidenced by ​these arrests in November 2016.