Copper is a metal that is present in the daily life of all of us. It is mainly characterised by its ability to be a great electrical conductor. It is used in the telephone, automotive, electrical, chemical and many other industries. Our telephones, the street lamps we walk past and the train wires we ride on are just some of the examples where we can see copper in our daily lives. There is practically no street on which we would walk and, when we look up, we would not see any wires.
As a metal with such a strong presence in all types of industry, it is one of the most consumed, but at the same time, one of the most stolen, for various reasons: its market price, its ease of theft, its extensive possibilities of use, its low complexity of sale and its large black market in which it is of no interest where the copper taken by the sellers comes from.
Generally, the process consists of three stages: its theft, its sale to a clandestine recycler/scrap dealer and its subsequent sale to a smelter to produce ingots, tubes and/or alloys. Therefore, the stolen material is often brought in through clandestine recyclers where no precautions are taken regarding the origin of the material, either through negligence or malice, depending on the specific case.
There is no doubt that the non-clandestine recyclers are the major players in preventing the development of the stolen copper market. Some of the preventive measures they take are to buy metal only from self-employed persons or companies and to ask for documentation. Despite this, it is not always possible to be completely sure.
At the same time, although it may seem strange, the purchase of stolen material is not the only fraud that is carried out. In some cases, the interest lies in being stolen. For example, dismantling certain constructions requires demolition permits, waste management licences and the hiring of companies to take care of everything related to the whole process. As a result, the site is often simply abandoned for the thieves to carry out the task that would cost both time and money to the person in charge.
The role of the police authorities is also very important. As a preventive measure, they often carry out surprise inspections, based on investigations or on a random basis, at recycling centres. They inspect the material and ask for all relevant documentation. In many cases, stolen material has been found, as the plastic covering the cables has a numbering that allows them to be traced back to their origin. The problem arises when the cables are stripped, losing all trace forever. They also analyse the type of cut of the cables, for example, if it has an even and neat cut, it is most likely to have been made with a machine, if the cut is irregular, it is likely to have been stolen.
The most serious theft is related not to the economic loss but to the paralysis of the activity. The task of reinstalling lighting or transport wiring can take days. The material is replaced, but the days without activity mean less income, dissatisfied customers, unfulfilled commitments and many more negative effects, which unfortunately shows that the collateral damage is often greater than the loot itself.