October 02, 2013 - Abandoned vehicles, dilapidated metal swing sets and copper pipes— a few materials that at one time were scattered over the urban and rural landscapes, now destined for the landfill.
However, that one time trash is now a treasure for recyclers and the businesses that collect the materials. While the new industry has boomed over the past few years, some issues stemming from illegally obtained materials has emerged.
As a result, last week the House Regulatory Reform Committee gave bipartisan approval to legislation to reform the scrap metal industry, designed to identify stolen items and protect stakeholders in the industry. The legislation underwent major revisions during the summer under a work group headed up by state Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, who serves on the committee. Kesto and other members of the work group met with those involved in the scrap metal industry to hammer out protections for buyers, sellers and utilities that are often subject to scrap metal theft.
Bills in the package that were approved by the committee include House Bill 4593, sponsored by state Rep. Paul Muxlow, R-Brown City, which outlines requirements on the part of both sellers and buyers of scrap metal. A companion bill establishes punishment for failure to comply with the law. Revisions in the measures require a three-day waiting period for payment when sellers are turning in copper, air-conditioning components or catalytic converters for recycling, which are the materials most subject to theft. The legislation also requires the seller to keep records of the sale, including photographs or video of the materials to be recycled.
Criminal activity has not been a big problem for a local recycling business.
"We've had minimal issues with stolen materials," said Jon Dahlin who, along with his family, opened Sumthing Green, Metal Recycling, 103 Wolfe Lane, Ortonville, in 2012.
"In the time we've been open we've had maybe one or two questions (about the origin of a piece of metal)."
"I would not support such legislation," he said. "My understanding is we have to tag certain items and wait three days. It's a lot more work and will cost us more to do business. I have piles of all the same product every day left here in our warehouse."
Dahlin said such legislation is neces-sary in the major cities like Flint and Detroit where thieves are going in and stripping out wire and plumbing, but not here in Ortonville.
"It should be up to the community to decide if they want such laws," he said. "You have to have a little faith in people. For example, if someone brings in a manhole cover and they are a contractor with documentation or sufficient records to have the material in their possession, it's not a problem. But a metal street sign—there's a problem."
Sumthing Green Metal Recycling and other scrap metal yards already are required to make a copy of a seller's photo identification, take their thumbprints and make them sign a statement indicating that the material is theirs to sell.
Kesto's legislation recognizes the statewide issue.
"The scrap metal industry is a necessary industry. It creates jobs and contributes to our economy," he said. "Instead of throwing scrap metal into a landfill, the materials are recycled. It is important to the state as a whole and we have to maintain an open mind when considering the issue on a statewide level. Mostly, this legislation focuses on the ability to prosecute theft. It is not our duty to put all these regulations on the industry. We wanted legislation that will allow scrap metal recyclers to operate freely in Michigan with certain safeguards."
Both bills cleared the committee and now head to the full House for consideration in the next few months.
Local law enforcement supports the new laws.
"This is very good legislation," said Sgt. Pete Burkett, Oakland County Sheriff 's Office, Brandon Township substation. "Almost weekly we have incidents of materials being stolen from homes and businesses for the scrap materials. With the number of foreclosed, abandoned homes in the community we have several cases where all the water lines are pulled out, aluminum siding and gutters removed from the home along with wires torn from the walls to get after the copper. It's a very big problem— not just in Brandon Township, but also statewide."
Burkett said catalytic converters are also a popular target by metal thieves.
"A few years ago we had a local business located on M-15 that reported 12 converters removed from the vehicles on their property," he added.
Similarly, Burkett said within the next few weeks the department will be implementing LeadsOnLine, which will allow businesses like secondhand dealers, pawnshops, gold buyers and scrap metal dealers to enter their purchases into a database which may be later viewed by law enforcement online. The information, which includes a photograph of the items, will be uploaded immediately and viewed online.
"It's the link needed to get stolen items back to their rightful owners," he said.