Scrap is back


David Mullings

Sunday, February 03, 2013

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JAMAICA has re-opened the scrap metal trade, and it is hoped by everyone that many of the previous theft issues that led to shutdowns in the past have been dealt with.

The current Administration has put in place measures it believes will deter the ugly side of the trade, but I found it interesting that just as we were reopening our scrap metal trade the BBC carried a story on January 28 titled 'Dramatic drop in copper cable theft across UK'.

Sometimes we think that Jamaica has certain problems because our indiscipline and disrespect for laws are much higher than anywhere else in the world. This article pointed out that in 2011 there were 2,627 railway-related copper thefts in the UK. Mind you, these were thefts from a working railway system that is heavily used, not abandoned tracks, so the level of inconvenience is quite costly.

They managed to cut thefts by some 50 per cent in 2012 by implementing Operation Tornado, which required photo ID and a utility bill less than three months old from anyone selling metal. Both England and Wales banned cash payments for scrap metal in December of last year.

The copper thefts are now back down to 2009 levels, but clearly it is still a real problem and there is legislation (a bill including licensing) being debated right now that, it is hoped, will continue the downward trend.

In Jamaica, people wishing to run scrap metal operations are required to have licences. So in that aspect we are ahead of the UK.

Previously the UK also made amendments to the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill in order to increase the penalties for breaking the law. In another BBC article from December 3 last year, Simon Ripley, a director of a recycling company in the UK, pointed out that legislation alone would not be enough and it really comes down to the police having more resources to be able to investigate thefts.

That sounds very familiar. He admitted to contacting the police when something is clearly stolen, pointing out that they were once offered the canon from a castle. In the last four years his company has helped to secure five successful prosecutions.

That sounds less familiar to Jamaicans. The idea of scrap metal dealers reporting possible stolen goods to the police and helping to catch criminals seems highly unlikely, even though it would be one way to help protect their industry and livelihood.

The UK is obviously not the only country facing a metal theft problem that has surged since the price of metals went up. Many states in the USA have been trying to address the problem. People have been stealing air-conditioning units, manhole covers, guardrails and even catalytic converters off motorcars

Last July, Florida became one of 48 states that have implemented some laws to curb metal theft. A similar ban on cash transactions was implemented, second-hand dealers must get signed statements, photographs and thumbprints from sellers.

Providing an incorrect address so you cannot be tracked as a seller is a felony, and you can be prosecuted even if not caught red-handed. North Carolina has gone further and requires that photos be taken of the seller posing with the metal they are selling.

The rapid industrialisation of China and India has driven up the value of metals such as copper. That will not change in the near future, so the temptation will continue to be there. The fundamental issue at hand is that as long as metal thieves are able to sell the stolen goods, then they will continue to steal. Someone has to be paying for the goods and turning a blind eye to where it may be coming from.

I am hopeful that the new regulations, including the $7-m bond, will make a real difference, but Jamaica is not alone in trying to find ways to deal with the issue of metal theft. I choose to believe that the remaining dealers understand that if they don't play a part in reducing the thefts, then the industry will be scrapped for good, and they will get no sympathy from the Jamaican public.

David Mullings was the first Future Leaders representative for the USA on the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board. He can be found on Twitter at and Facebook at




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