Thieves target trash cans

A trash hauler picks up waste from homes on Angeles Crest Highway. Officials say thieves are now stealing empty trash cans to get cash for the plastic. (File photo)

Not only have thieves looking for an easy buck targeted the contents of the catalytic converters on your cars and the cans and bottles in your recycling bins, it turns out they’re also grabbing the empty waste bins themselves.

According to Sgt. Ray Harley of the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, thieves steal trash bins in order to sell the plastic to recycling plants for cash.

“It’s yet another item that thieves can steal, and there’s a recycling demand for plastics, just like the metals, aluminum and copper and so on,” he said.

Harley said that these thefts are a small, but steady problem, not just in La Cañada Flintridge, but throughout the region.

“I don’t know if they’ve gone up, but there are a couple, maybe two or three a month, approximately,” he said. “It’s something that happens everywhere.”

To prevent these thefts, Harley suggests that residents take their trash cans away from the curb as quickly as possible after they are emptied. It might also help deter the thefts if residents paint or otherwise mark their cans with their address numbers, he said.

“If we catch some guy driving down the street with a pick-up truck with a few trash barrels in it, he might have some humbug story,” Harley said. “But if there’s some address numbers on it, that [information] could point us in the right direction [to solve a theft].”

La Cañada Flintridge’s three main trash service providers, Allied, Athens and NASA, do not have policies against marking cans.

Two trash can thefts have been reported so far in 2012, but victims don’t always report their losses, as in La Cañada, only Athens requires a police report when replacing a stolen bin. All three companies will replace stolen bins at no charge unless there are repeat incidents.

Ed Chen, director of Governmental Affairs for Athens Services, said that while thefts aren’t a big problem for his company, they do have some impact.

“Thefts do happen, and any time that happens, we have to send a team out to replace those barrels, so it is a problem for us,” he said. “It’s pretty common across our service areas, but we haven’t really seen a big spike.”

Chen said it costs Athens $45.96 to replace each 96-gallon residential waste bin. The receptacles are purchased in bulk from the Rehrig Pacific Company in Los Angeles.

Justin Fellhauer, sales manager at Rehrig Pacific, said that while it is possible to scrap their waste bins, as they are made of 100% recyclable plastic, he doesn’t think it would be cost-effective for the thieves.

“That’s a lot of work for what I would call it a minimal return,” he said.

Fellhauer said that the plastic Rehrig uses, high-density polyethylene, could generally be sold to a recycling facility for 25 to 30 cents per pound. With each 96-gallon waste bin weighing around 30 pounds, “That’s $9,” said Rehrig. “People would make more money off of taking the recyclables [out of] the containers.”

Still, Harley said the residents should keep an eye out for suspicious behavior in their neighborhood.

“In one of the reports a couple of months ago, the victim had her son in the car, and they were still blocks away from their home, but the son noticed a truck go by with one or more trash barrels in the back, and sure enough, when they got home, their trash barrels were gone,” he said.