After Phoenix Public Market receives a shipment of produce, the wood and plastic pallets that carried the fruits and vegetables are carefully locked in a fenced enclosure behind the store. The market loses a $75 deposit for each pallet that isn't returned, and there is a black market for pallets these days.
"It's desperate times out there," said Cindy Gentry, executive director of Community Food Connections, which operates the market. "Whatever you have to barter or trade is an asset, even if it's not yours."
If there is a market for it, there is a thief for it, said Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, who authored a bill that would require companies buying pallets, beverage shelves and other types of bulk containers to keep detailed records of large purchases.
Concerned about thefts, beverage industry representatives approached Robson about introducing the legislation.
"Years ago stolen property didn't just end up in salvage facilities," Robson said. "It's a whole new industry that gets created by the economy, or lack of economy."
The bill would require records to be available for inspection by police officers and would make violations of the requirements a misdemeanor with a fine of up to $30,000 for each violation.
Arizona companies supplying non-alcoholic beverages lose about 500,000 beverage shelves to theft every year, each worth at least $45 if they are made of wood and more if they are plastic, said Mike Gardner, executive director of the Arizona Beverage Association.
The change would hopefully make salvage companies question whether their suppliers really own the containers, some of which carry logos for companies such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, he said.
"You're not allowed right now to buy a stolen vehicle, yet these people right now are allowed to sell property that clearly doesn't belong to them," Gardner said.
House Bill 2168 would require companies buying more than 10 plastic or wood bulk merchandise containers to record the name, addresses and telephone number of the seller, a description of the purchase and the license plate number of the vehicle used to deliver the containers. Companies would also have to confirm the identity of the seller with a government-issued ID.
The best way to catch pallet thieves is to get a license plate number before they drive away from the store, said Detective Tom Robinson, who investigates property crimes for the Phoenix Police Department. However, Robinson said any records are helpful to an investigation.
"Anytime you can get someone's ID ... it helps considerably," he said.