The Rise Of Recycle Theft

By Angie Mohr | August 15, 2012 AAA

Recycle theft is an increasing problem across America, fueled by both the rising prices of products and the continued depressed economy. Although capture and prosecution for these crimes is also on the rise, criminals are finding new ways to obtain recyclables. Thefts can be as under-the-radar as individual thieves rifling through recycle bins under the cover of darkness. Thefts can also be as brazen as professional rings renting trucks and posing as recyclers. Here are four of the most coveted materials that thieves across the United States are stealing.

Scrap Metal
Increases in the price of base metals make scrap metal one of the most popular targets for theft. The price of copper in particular has sparked interest by thieves. Copper went from a low of 65 cents per pound in 2002 to a current price of around $3.40, making it a financially viable target.

The three other non-ferrous metals - aluminum, zinc and nickel - are also in high demand, causing scrap metal recyclers to increase security around their facilities. In many cases, thieves are not waiting for the metals to hit recycle bins, but are going into vacant houses to strip copper wiring and other metals. Catalytic converters in automobiles, which contain platinum and other valuable metals, are being stolen from auto parts companies and directly from cars.

Restaurant Grease
Used cooking oil has become a sought-after resource by biofuel companies who convert it to an alternative vehicle fuel. Many restaurants have contracts either directly with these companies or with grease recyclers to dispose of the used oil. Thieves target unguarded oil tanks or reservoirs and cash in directly with biofuel manufacturers. The National Renderers Association estimates that $39 million in used grease is stolen annually in the U.S. When used oil is stolen, equipment and storage containers are often damaged.

Cardboard
At around $100 a ton, cardboard is not the most lucrative recyclable material. What makes it popular with thieves is that it is easy to steal. While many companies are becoming more aware of metal theft and taking additional precautions, cardboard is often left unguarded while it waits for the contracted recycler. Thieves can go up and down a commercial district in New York City and load up a truck with bundled cardboard quickly. Because cardboard poaching requires a vehicle and at least two or three strong backs, it is more likely to be perpetrated by organized groups than by individual thieves.

Returnable Bottles
Glass is not really a lucrative commodity on its own, and it is difficult to transport. However, the bottle deposit and return programs implemented in several states give these containers an additional value. Many states charge a bottle deposit, usually around a nickel per bottle, when purchased and return the deposit when the empty bottle is returned to an authorized facility. In some cases of theft, bottles are collected in a neighboring state that does not have a deposit program and then returned in a state that does.

In other cases, restaurants and other big users of returnable bottles are targeted and unattended bottles are stolen in the dark of night. In a recent case in Maine, the owners of a bottle return facility were charged in a scheme to obtain the handling fees on hundreds of thousands of bottles that were transported from non-deposit states.

The Bottom Line
Recycle theft is on the rise as the aforementioned commodities become more valuable. Both individuals and businesses have had to increase security over these items to protect their own financial interests. What was once garbage has now become a preferred target for thieves.

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