Recyclers weigh in on new scrap metal law

Published 5:00 am Monday, August 4, 2008

With thefts of copper and other scrap metals on the rise, statelawmakers passed a bill that takes effect Aug. 8 aimed at making itharder for thieves to sell their ill-gotten gains.

Unfortunately, some metal recycling businesses are reportingthat while they are glad that parts of the bill will help curtailespecially copper theft, other parts may take a chunk out of theirbusiness.

Michael McKenzie said he thinks the law needs to be looked atagain, because sections of the bill that limit sale of things likeair conditioner parts, metal sinks, and catalytic converters topeople with certain licenses may penalize perfectly honest people,as well as causing issues for the recycling businesses.

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“If your catalytic converter goes bad and you have to replace it,we pay up to $40 a piece for those things,” he said. “Just like ifyou have a stainless steel sink and you take it out of your houseto put in a new one, we can’t buy it from you.”

Meanwhile, the bill also details how recyclers are supposed to keeptheir records in order to expedite the process if some of themetals are found to be stolen. Recyclers must take a picture of theperson who sells the scrap metal, as well as the metal itself, andto keep copies of the seller’s driver’s license and the salesreceipt from the transaction.

McKenzie said in addition to having to worry about the laundry listof things he’s not allowed to buy anymore, he’s also having toimplement a whole new file system and buy cameras and otherequipment to comply with the new regulations.

“A lot of the problem is the new equipment,” he said. “The camerasand things. To me, when we have a copy of the driver’s license andwhat they’ve sold, that should be enough.”

Brookhaven Recycling manager Jeff Stratton said his business willend up spending between $30,000 and $35,000 on a new camera system.He said, however, that he feels fine about the new regulations, andsees it as a step in the right direction.

“It’s going to take a headache off me, because that way we’ve gotthe records computerized and all we have to do is pull it up andwe’re not trying to dig through forms and tickets,” he said. “It’sgoing to help with a lot of the little bitty personal things thatget stolen. Stuff like that is hard to find again.”

Under the new regulations, the recycler also has to hold items thatare sold for three days, separated from other metals on the yard.Once three business days have passed, they can send a check to theaddress on the driver’s license of the person who sold it.

“But what about that guy who was just here, and he’s moved since hehad his driver’s license done?” McKenzie said.

In addition, McKenzie said, one of the reasons the scrap metalindustry is doing so well is that so many people need the moneyimmediately.

“There was a lady in here just now who said she was going to buymedicine with the money she got,” he said. “People buy gas with it.People need this money for things that go on every day.”

Stratton said there have been several times of late that peoplehave been sitting on his lot selling scrap metal and their vehicleshave run out of gas on the grounds because they were trying to findsome quick gas money.

“With gas like it is, we have it happen all the time that peopleare running out while they’re sitting in line or waiting to unload.They’ll just run out of gas on the property and we have to pulltheir vehicle out of the way,” he said.

Stratton said he does have some customers that are concerned aboutthe lag time between selling and when they get their check in themail.

“The average person selling scrap metal just doesn’t have a moneyroll set aside for fuel and things. They come up here to get themoney to put towards it,” he said. “The fact that they have to waitfor the check is a lot worse for the customer than it is forus.”

Morris Williams, of Brookhaven, sells frequently to McKenzieMetals. He said he uses the money he gets from selling scrap metalonce a week not only for gas, but also for feeding hislivestock.

“This is how I feed my horses and cows,” he said, saying that whilehe would still continue to sell his scrap metal, he thinks someparts of the new law are unfair to honest people who are trying tosupplement their income.

District 92 Rep. Becky Currie said the legislation is aimed atstopping the criminals, not punishing the honest citizens.

“We wouldn’t do anything to harm anybody,” she said. “We’re reallyjust trying to get a hold of the copper theft, and most of yourcopper sales in the state was being done by thieves. If you’relegitimate you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.”

District 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith agreed that the emphasis of thelaw was simply to keep theft down, because honest people aresuffering from the repercussions of the high cost of scrapcopper.

“It’s amazing what people are doing to get this stuff because it isbringing so much money, it’s higher than it’s ever been,” she said.”Normally people have copper built into their buildings, and theyweren’t thinking at that time that they built it that it would be aproblem. The price of metals on the international market has gottenvery high right now, and because of that everyone is trying to takethings to recyclers because it’s such a lucrative product at thistime.”

Lawmakers cited one extreme incident where there was a tornadowarning in Jackson while they were in session, but the city’s alertsystem didn’t sound.

“We had a tornado warning in Jackson and the sirens couldn’t go offbecause the copper was stolen from the system,” said District 53Rep. Bobby Moak. “That’s pretty bad.”

Currie pointed out that if the law is successful, it should helpthe public with things like insurance rates in the future.

“We were trying to protect so many businesses and people that werebuilding houses, and they’d come back the next day and the airconditioner unit is stolen,” she said. “People were even takingthings out of schools and churches. This was not to punish anyonedoing anything legally, it was to prevent the thieves, and in thelong run hopefully the public will benefit.

Meanwhile, McKenzie points back to the current benefit for thecommunity, saying not only does recycling keep the community cleanbecause people are picking up old scrap metals, but it also is afinancial asset.

“I don’t think they realize what a recycling facility does for theeconomy,” he said, indicating a man who was selling some metalwheels. “We’ll give him $33.28 for those, and he’ll go buy gas, goto the grocery … he’ll spend it in Brookhaven. And that’s puttingit right back into the community.”