Scrap recyclers warn of consequences from anti-theft legislation

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) called on members of Congress interested in truly combating metal theft to take a step back to look at the big picture.

“In the last minute rush to appear concerned about metal theft, a bill was introduced in Congress to deal with copper theft that could seriously harm recycling, while never once mentioning the thief!” said ISRI spokesman Bruce Savage. “The legislation introduced by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is the copper theft equivalent of addressing bank robbery by punishing the bank for having the money.”

ISRI has been actively working with law enforcement and businesses that are often victims of metal theft for more than two years – long before recent Congressional efforts to address the problem.

More than two years ago, ISRI provided recommended practices to the scrap recycling industry encouraging them to reach out to police and leaders in their community, to take additional identification from scrap peddlers who are not regular customers, to maintain and make available records of scrap transactions that can aid prosecutors in taking these cases to court, and to avoid accepting materials suspected of having been stolen by making certain items off-limits except by authorized owners.

“Recyclers have been working to be a part of the solution to this national problem for years, but were never once contacted before these pre-election bills were introduced,” Savage said. “The bill fails to take advantage of industry expertise; fails to consider the many successful local coalitions of recyclers, police and victims groups; fails to encourage better protection of vulnerable materials; and fails to strengthen punishment for the thieves. No doubt the authors are trying to do the right thing, but their rush-job effort to introduce a bill before the election fails to address the root of the problem and will bring serious harm to recycling and environmental protection.”

The recycling industry has experienced the unintended consequences of bad legislation before. In recent months, cities, counties, and states across the country have sought legislative solutions to the problem of metal theft, many of which have not achieved their stated goal.

“Their goal was to curb metal theft but their result was to curb recycling in general!” Savage said. “Efforts to curb metal theft should address theft prevention and punishing the thieves, employ successful strategies and should promote recycling in general.”

Savage noted that, while the problem of metal theft is unquestionably a problem in communities around the country, stolen material makes up only a small fraction of material that comes to a scrap yard each day.