Regulation changes needed to combat scrap metal theft

Written by: Recycling Waste World | Published:

Lancashire Police recorded a 50% increase in the number of scrap metal thefts carried out in the county since last year. According to the force, there were 3,014 metal theft crimes in Lancashire between April 2010 and March 2011; a 48.3% increase on the 1,558 incidents in the previous twelve months. Among the metals stolen were lead flashing, copper boilers and cables from local train lines.

Ian Hetherington, director general at the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA), has called for better coordination to build a national picture of the size of the problem; both in terms of the rate of metals theft and the number of successful prosecutions, not just the number of arrests.

“Currently the way theft of metal is reported and handled is different across every police force in the country. Metals theft is a real problem for the metals industry. To combat this we are working with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and industries that use products containing valuable metals,” said Hetherington before adding: “The BMRA is also calling for changes in environmental regulations so it can focus on stamping out illegal operators that blight the industry.”

Each year around 15 million tonnes of metal is recovered, with a sale value of £13 billion.

A scrap metal industry source agreed with BMRA’s director general that scrap metal theft is a big problem.

“It’s never going to go away as long as cash is involved. As long as people can take stolen scrap metal to scrap yards and be paid in cash, the theft of items like British Telecom lines and copper piping from builders’ yards is simply going to continue.

“As much as the police try and ban it, scrap yards are always going to be easy outlets for thieves. The only way to curb this is to stop the cash. The government can easily stamp it out. They could implement regulations so that scrap yards are only allowed to accept metal scrap from bona fide people. I’ve heard that in Australia, scrap metal dealers are only permitted one transaction a day and they are limited to a certain amount and that sellers of scrap metal have to supply a driving licence or ID card before the scrap can be bought so that everything is traceable. Our system doesn’t do that - more’s the pity,” continued the industry source.

Alasdair Jackson, operations director at Recycling Lives, a commercial recycler and scrap metal dealer, told RWW: “Scrap dealers should insist on a minimum of information when individuals arrive at their premises. A record of each transaction, including the customer’s full name and address, as well as their vehicle registration details, should be taken and retained for future record.

“While it’s relatively easy for a scrap metal dealer to discourage thieves from disposing of stolen items with them, it is far more difficult to prevent scrap metal theft in general. Sadly, for every ten reputable scrap metal dealerships, there’s one that will accept stolen goods, take false names and buy metal from the drivers of vehicles with no registration number.

“In order to curb scrap metal theft, there needs to be a level playing field. Recycling Lives would welcome the wider adoption of a nationally recognised voluntary code for metal dealers, such as the BMRA and ACPO’s Voluntary Code of Practice, introduced in 2010. We would be pleased to consult on a more in-depth scheme that would further incentivise legitimate scrap dealership and help to identify dealerships whose security standards are found to be wanting.”

Last month Lancashire Police carried out Operation Starling, a week-long campaign aimed at reducing scrap metal theft in the region. Officers implemented roadside checks on vehicles transporting metals and visiting scrap yards to remind dealers of their legal obligations to ensure a legitimate audit trail on the metal they accept.

British Transport Police Supt Eddie Wylie said: “With scrap metal dealers' support we can make it very difficult for metal thieves to operate.

“Good record keeping makes this very difficult and, without this, dealers can establish a perfect environment for criminals to sell on stolen goods, safe in the knowledge they will never be traced.”

Lee Collins, environment officer with the Environment Agency told RWW: "The Environment Agency is targetting serious organised criminals who pollute the environment and undercut legitimate businesses.

“As part of Operation Starling in Lancashire, we checked that individuals were registered to carry waste, and that activities on waste sites in the area were permitted."

BMRA’s Hetherington went on to say that: “The recently launched code of practice is a strong reflection of our commitment to tackling the problem. It is also important to remind homeowners and businesses, including metals recyclers, who regularly suffer attacks from criminals, to seek rapid police response.

"Experience shows that robust policing and attention to security procedures are important deterrents to thieves.”

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