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Recyclers have ‘key role’ in fighting surge in catalytic converter crime

A closer partnership between recyclers and law enforcement agencies is being called for to tackle the escalating problem of the theft of catalytic converters (CCs) from vehicles in the US.

Insurance claims for such thefts rose from an average 108 per month in 2018 to 282 in 2019 before soaring to 1 203 in 2020. Two thousand were recorded in December alone. The numbers are considered to be lower than the actual losses because not all thefts are reported to insurers.

It is seen as an economic crime. Prices for metals contained in CCs, platinum, palladium and rhodium, are at all-time highs. The average car contains 2-6 grams of such metals and rhodium currently costs US$ 774 per gram. It is estimated that thieves in the US are paid US$ 50-800 for stolen CCs while the cost of replacement is over US$ 1 000.

The problem was addressed during a session at the 2021 ISRI convention because recyclers are seen as key players in fighting such crime, with ISRI establishing a working group to collaborate with other agencies including the police.

Steve Levetan, evp of Pull A Part, a self-service auto parts retailer and recycler in a dozen US states, believes the hike in thefts is prompted by more people being out of work combined with emphasis on property crimes because of reduced manpower and budgets within enforcement agencies. CCs are quick and easy to remove and are not readily identifiable when sold into a ready market. He called it ‘a perfect storm’.

Levetan said that scrapyards and recyclers were often implicated. ‘Every day, there are news articles about thefts and in virtually every story they identify scrap yards or recyclers as the buyers. Our industry has been tagged wrongfully as the source of the problems.’

While he accepted that the purchase and sale of CCs was generally addressed by metal theft laws in all 50 states, Levetan said loopholes often allowed purchasers to claim they were not buying ‘scrap’ but ‘cores’ (spare parts). He believed legal changes were required around who can buy and sell CCs, record keeping and penalties.

But non-legislative changes such as a campaign to mark CCs with distinctive tags could have an immediate, high visibility impact at low or no cost. ‘This is a long-term issue and will only be solved by a collaborative effort by all stakeholders – to which ISRI is committed,’ he concluded.

A law enforcement angle was offered by Butch Bryant, special counsel, Knox County, Tennessee Sheriff’s office, who said LA County in California had recorded a 400% increase in CC theft from 2019 to 2020. The motorists’ association AAA California reported a 90% increase in CC replacements last year.

Fleet vehicles were a particular target, he added, as they were often parked up in one place. ‘This is a wonderful hunting ground for thieves who become good at what they do’.

Recyclers played a key role in tackling the theft, Bryant said as they were usually the ultimate purchaser and ‘are often were the ones who tell us what is going on’.

‘These crimes need a relationship between law enforcers and recyclers. We have to reach out with our partners and I believe we can achieve something together.’

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