NJ to consider tougher screening for mob-tainted recycling industry

Crane at a recycling plant. (Big Stock File)

Crane at a recycling plant. (Big Stock File)

In the wake of troubling disclosures detailing organized crime’s infiltration of the recycling industry, a prominent New Jersey state senator is planning to push new legislation to bar the mob from the sector.

Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), who wrote a tough licensing law to weed out criminals from the garbage and waste industry decades ago, said yesterday he would extend the measure to apply to businesses and brokers in the recycling business. 

Just last week, the State Commission of Investigation held a hearing revealing how criminals are exploiting loopholes in the recycling business to dump contaminated fill and debris around the state, often in environmentally sensitive areas.

Investigators and agents for the SCI told how lax oversight and the absence of licensing requirements has allowed unsavory “dirt brokers’’ to improperly dispose of tainted fill in residential areas, sometimes containing cancer-causing agents. 

The findings did not surprise some, including the SCI, which addressed many of the problems cited in the hearing and ongoing investigation by the commission in a report it issued back in 2011, as Lesniak’s bill (S-2406] notes. It is identical to a bill (A-1581) introduced in the last session, but never acted upon.

Asked why there was no movement on the legislation at that time, Lesniak said the front office made it clear to him the governor would not support an expansion of regulatory authority. Instead, he focused his efforts on a bill to more stringently regulate the grease-recycling industry, which was vetoed.

With the latest revelations from the SCI, Lesniak is hopeful the measure will find more support this term. “I’m hoping the second report will be enough to get it over the top,’’ he said.

“The good recyclers want to be regulated,’’ argued Lesniak, a likely candidate for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. “No one wants the mob pushing their way into their lives and taking money away from their livelihoods.’’ 

The bill would implement many of the recommendations issued by the SCI to expand the effective oversight of both the solid-waste and recycling industries. It would subject the sector to the same licensing requirements and expand background checks of those involved in the field to include salespersons, consultants, and brokers. 

The legislation also would prohibit licenses from being issued to people barred from operating in the industry in other states and convicted felons.

“This is a law enforcement issue that has a real impact on the environment and public health,’’ Lesniak said. “The mob doesn’t care if their actions cause contamination and health problems.’’

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NJ Spotlight, an independent online news service on issues critical to New Jersey, makes its in-depth reporting available to NewsWorks.

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