My neighbor and I have both recently had our city-provided garbage cans stolen – you know, the large plastic containers with wheels. The thieves did not steal them from our garages, but instead, they waited until trash collection day and took them from the curb close to the street.
When talking to the sanitation department in my town of Portsmouth, Ohio, in order to require a replacement, I discovered stealing the containers was not all that uncommon. In fact, the spokesperson told me it happened “all the time.” That really made me consider just where a thief would sell cans and just how much each can is worth. After all, in the end, a trash can is still a trash can. But, a theft is still a theft, no matter how incredibly dumb.
So, as I always do with topics of interest, I decided to explore the topic of trash can rustling.
I found that as many as 4,400 times a year 96-gallon plastic containers issued to Houston, Texas homes are reported missing or stolen. And, they're almost never found. That number is probably low since the article reporting the thefts was written in 2008.
Houston buys about 20,000 of them annually for $44 apiece – an expenditure of $880,000 a year – and provides one for each residence along a public roadway. Having an extra can costs a $7.50 monthly fee, but replacing a “missing” or “stolen” one is free.
Replacing a “stolen” can requires a police report for what is considered a misdemeanor theft of city property and that is in the same grouping as first-offense prostitution and indecent exposure. Yet, replacing a “missing” one, merely requires a call to the city.
Marina Joseph, spokeswoman for Houston's solid waste management department, said in 2007 2,486 cans were reported stolen and 2,031 were reported missing.
(Dane Schiller. “Trash can rustling common in Houston, police say.” The Houston Chronicle. February 18, 2008.)
Houston police Captain Ceaser Moore said, "They use them to transport construction materials, primarily copper or other precious metals they can steal. If they went into your house, they could put a TV, a DVD player, everything in that trash can and pull it down the street."
Then, I found out what Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was reporting as a cause for a rise in the theft of plastic trash bins in 2012 – money made from recycling.
"They take them to the grinding factories to the recycling places and sell them illegally," said Lt. James Wolak. "They are grinded down and sold to the black market."
Thieves can get about 30 cents a pound for the plastic. A thief can make $9 on a trash bin weighing 30 pounds, detectives said.
In the past six months, Wolak’s department has recovered $4 million in stolen plastic. He said to deter thieves, mark your bin with your name or address. Then, if police see bins on the back of a truck, they can identify the owner.
(Antonio Castelan and James Hourani. “Trash Bins Stolen for the Plastic.” Channel 4, NBC. February 23, 2012.)
And, finally, Lee County, Mississippi Sheriff Jim Johnson said at least 15 of the county-issued garbage cans were stolen during the Thanksgiving holidays in 2015.
“It has absolutely no other use than as a garbage can. It’s a plastic bucket with wheels,” said Johnson. “I don’t know that there is any kind of demand for them."
“I feel this is more of a juvenile thing, malicious mischief, possibly a contest to see how many they can get.”
But, according to the Lee County Solid Waste Department, the cans cost $56.52 each. The theft of nine would be a total of $508.68 and push the charge from a misdemeanor to a felony.
“Each one of the cans has a serial number so we can track where they are supposed to be,” said Johnson. “The more they are caught with, it could go from petty larceny to grand larceny.
There, before a lost or stolen garbage bin can be replaced, the homeowner must file a police report and take a copy to the solid waste office, and it might take up to a week to have a replacement bin delivered.
“If we do find out who has been stealing these garbage cans, I am going to get the court to order them to ride the garbage trucks,” said Johnson. “That way, they can pick up all the garbage cans they want.”
(William Moore. “Garbage cans reported stolen in Lee County.” djjournal.com. December 02, 2015.)
Damn, I'm 65 years-old. I've been to a barn raising, a quilting bee, a square dance, and a Baptist foot washing, and I've never seen the like. All over the country desperate criminals are snatching our innocent, exposed garbage cans. It is becoming a real problem since taxpayers pay for theft, and the trend of brazen, filthy burglaries shows no sign of abating.
I guess everyone could pour cement into the bottom of the cans, plant exploding ink packs on the containers, or chain the receptacles to the curb, but most of those things would likely not sit well with the garbage men. Security cameras are pretty expensive, too. So, how about just beating the bejesus out of the cans until they look so ragged that no respectable thief would dare be seen pilfering one? Even on his way to the black market to make his trashy $9.00?