Judge John Hodgman Episode 212: Reduce, Reuse, Accuse


Elliot brings the case against his girlfriend, Rachel. Their recycling bin has been stolen from the curb repeatedly, and they want to figure out who's responsible. Elliot thinks they should try to catch the thief while it's happening, Rachel thinks they should sit back and wait for the perp to present him or herself. Who's right? Who's wrong?

Sandra Macke named this week's case via the Judge John Hodgman Facebook page. Thanks, Sandra!



Submitted by Elliot & Rachel

"The first few give a sense of the size of the bin and placement on recycling day."

"The fourth photo is the view from which I would place the camera, in our friends' apartment."

"The fifth photo is of another person's bin we noticed while walking near our house. It speaks to the culture of bin theft in the city."

"Our bin the week after it was stolen recently. We found it on the day of our recycling pickup, and it had items that we would NOT have put in it, e.g. tofurkey and chicken-flavored boxed stuffing."

"The last photo is an affidavit from the friends from whose window I would stage my surveillance."


A resolution less sinister??

Yesterday morning I watched Austin's Resource Recovery guys work because their truck was blocking me in. Their approach, clearly streamlined, was to drop one guy off at the start of the block, park the truck mid-block, and unload a second guy there. The first guy jogged two cans (our recycling cans are on two wheels and slightly larger than the garbage cans) to the truck, used its lift device to empty the can, then ran them back to grab the next ones, and so on. The second guy did the same for the far end of the block.

I am often the last of my neighbors home on a Friday evening and am often left a can that is not mine. I used to think it was inattentiveness, but now I'm thinking a secondary component may be laziness. They probably don't notice that my address is on the can, and if they did, would be too lazy to walk it down the block for me and then also search for their own. This system is just fine when we all have city-supplied cans. I realize that this isn't the case in Portland; but the city workers maybe not be directed to return the exact bin to its original location; possibly just the number of bins.


Is there any update on this? Has the suspect been identified? I need closure!

Closure Request


Long time listener, first time poster. Great podcast!

Also... Update, please! Has the thief been apprehended? Our at the very least identified?

Thank you,


I'm so sad you gave away the super sneakiest obscure cultural reference of all! Thank you for making me smile at the memories of reading Wonderful House a hundred thousand times to my human children when they were little.

Deposit gleaners

I believe that Maine, like Oregon, has a bottle deposit law. Here in Oregon, you can take your beer, soda and water bottles back to retailers and get 5 cents each back. 5 cents was never very much and it hasn't gone up in at least 40 years so taking bottles back to the store isn't worth it to most people - we put them in the recycling. Sometimes, during the night, people who really need money will come and collect the returnable bottles. Many of them are nice and have their own shopping cart or other container but some people find it more convenient to just take the whole recycling container. Now, perhaps the litigants' have a neighbor who is one of those lazy gleaners and he steals their bin for its barely valuable contents because he has already spent the allowance his mom gave him on pornography and polyhedral dice. Then, being lazy, he leaves the bin out in the driveway where his unsuspecting mother wonders why they have two now but shrugs and puts their recycling in it anyway.

deposit containers

Yes, that's my guess. And groups do it. So they could come by in a group in the early hours with a car, pick it up, sort the deposit contaiiners out, leave the bin at the end of the street, and the bin gets eventually back up the street. Add that to the people who just grab the first one they see when they get home from work and the way the wind blows this thing down the street...mystery solved. They need to call the city because while the bin belongs to them, the contents belong to the city and taking stuff from curbside is illegal.

Important question missed

Is a WSC (Wildlife Surveillance Camera) a ROBOT?

Higher ground

By being creepy you're potentially loosing the higher ground with the bin thief so after you've found out who it via hidden camera, go out a by a new bin, put a big ribbon on it and then you can confront the person by giving them the new bin for their own use. They'll feed terrible because not only have they been caught but they can't get angry with you for doing something "nice" for them. You'll know who it is, they'll know you know, they'll have to excuse to keep taking the bin and you'll look like the bigger person. Seems better than a passive aggressive note or a dirty look. - Andrew

Being "weird" has never been

Being "weird" has never been a reason to not do something. Being "creepy" is though

Cool plan.

Here's what to do. 1) Get video of the jerk stealing your recycle bin. 2) Print a bunch of frames of the video and leave them in the recycle bin for the jerk to find. This implies "We know who you are, dillhole."

You're welcome!

I Agree

But I would take some stills from the video and tape them to the outside of the bin. Maybe along with a note like on the side of a milk carton: "Have you seen this child?"

I had a problem just like this in the mid-1990s

My wife bought a townhouse in a historic neighborhood in downtown Cincinnati that was adjacent to the most depressed area of the city. We were becoming increasingly disturbed that our Sunday NYTimes was missing most weeks, and after making several cranky phone calls to the Times, confirmed that the paper was being taken.

We were pretty sure it was a neighbor. One Sunday morning I woke up at 5am,got the paper when it was delivered, and replaced it in the NYT newspaper bag with old newspapers, chicken bones, and notes telling the culprit they were a loser.

Then I waited by our kitchen window waiting with a camera. About 2 hours later a neighbor, walking her dog, stopped, looked both ways, and took the "paper". It all happened so fast I didn't even take a picture.

I woke up my wife to tell her and she said "wow" and went back to sleep. Then I faced the dilemma of what to do. I got dressed, walked to her house and rang the bell. I waited 10 minutes until she came to the door. She said she was in the shower (I thought 'yeah, because you were grossed out by the chicken bones'. She asked what I needed at 7am on a Sunday, and I told her that someone has been taking my NYTs and I saw her walking her dog. She said she didn't see anyone take the paper. I didn't know how to respond to that;but,the paper never went missing again.

Epilogue - I saw her at a party a couple of months later and she asked me if I found out who was taking the paper. That's when I gave her the evil eye and said, I think so.

Did a similar thing

After some angry calls about my paper not being delivered, I figured out that it was being stolen. (apartment complex).

One Sunday, I woke up early, grabbed my paper and replaced it with the previous week's paper. But instead of chicken bones, I used glitter and red powdered beverage mix (without sugar). That powder will hang around in carpets and furniture for years.

Cause I am mean like that.

Thanks for the ride lady!

Judge John Hodgman, I recognized your obscure cultural reference to Creepshow II, or more specifically the tale entitled "The Hitchhiker" when you asked one of the litigants if he saw his recycle bin hitchhiking, passed it by, and then saw it hitchhiking farther down the road. Shame be to any who live in Maine who do not know all Stephen King references! May I have a summary judgement in my favor?

Stick it to 'em!

I would like to humbly suggest that Jesse change the name of his adhesive-centric podcast to "Here's lookin' at glue, kid."

Terry Petrosky


That was a bit of awesome!

here is something he could do

He could print a picture of the thief stealing the bin and tape it to the bin with a note that says "please stop doing this" or something like that. . .

Ooooo...I like that!

Looking forward to the, video! Nothing like a public shamin' to keep the peace. Ü


Yes! This is exactly what I was thinking!

GPS Tracker

How about using a GPS tracker in addition to the video.