Los Angeles County Sheriff’s investigators estimate up to $6 million in stolen trademark plastic has been recovered by the Sheriff’s Industrial Plastic Theft Task Force over the last two years. (courtesy LASD)

DOWNEY (CBSLA.com) — Even in a down economy, the price of plastic continues to soar – and commercial burglaries along with it.

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KNX 1070’s Ed Mertz reports one Downey business has been hard hit by thieves targeting a simple product: plastics.

“We have a lot of opportunists out there taking advantage of the situation at the expense of the companies,” said Bill Kruese, whose company Rockview Farms has had to pay millions every year to replace stolen milk crates.

“We’re looking at spending about $1.4 million this year alone,” he estimated.

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The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Industrial Plastic Theft Task Force has raided plastics recycling companies around the Southland and recovered more than $6 million in stolen plastics during raids last year alone.

Plastic pallets are being stolen from the loading docks behind businesses in what sheriff’s investigators say is an “organized effort by thieves who have trucks and co-conspirators working at businesses throughout Los Angeles County and the entire region.”

As the price of plastic has jumped to about 15 cents a pound, more thieves are selling milk crates, pallets and bread trays to local recyclers, who then ground the plastic into pellets and even ship it to Asian factories, which may turn them back into the same items and sell them to some of the businesses that were victimized, according to the Associated Press.

Sheriff’s investigators have so far given prosecutors nearly 50 criminal cases across Southern California and Kruese hopes that’s only the beginning.

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“It took a number of years for us just to get law enforcement to identify and recognize the problem,” Kruese said. “It’s not appreciated…we just need our cases back so we can stay more competitive in the marketplace.”