In fact to put a price on it the UK calculates its annual loss from copper theft at 770 million pounds, South Africa, 38 million and the US an incredible 1 billion dollars. And it is not only the cost of the copper itself that needs to be taken into account but when the copper has been stolen from existing infrastructure, it is also the cost of rebuilding that infrastructure.
So where do they get it from? Common copper sources include construction sites, railway stations, power stations and sub stations, roofing pipes, gutters, wiring, and plumbing supplies and telecommunications companies. Thieves have even been known to steal copper from street poles and extract the copper from bronze manhole covers and statues.
So what drives the thieves? For the most part the answer is obvious; the money. However drivers for some street level thieves might also include the need to feed a drug addiction.
Organised or not, it can be a dangerous way to make a living. The dangers of copper theft include electrocution and infrastructure outages. Thieves have been known to cut live wires in order to extract copper from street poles. In doing so, they not only endanger their own lives but also those of the general public. A recent incident saw a person pose as a telephone technician to extract copper from cables and in doing so bought down the whole community's communication system which in turn may have placed other's lives at risk.
So how do we stop this? Ramping up of security is an obvious deterrent; increasing security be it electronic or physical. A recent innovation has been the introduction of micro-dotting technology which is a glitter like substance which can spray traceable serial numbers onto copper. Taskforces have also been established to examine such issues and recommendations have included categorising copper as a precious metal, thereby making it more difficult for thieves to dispose of as precious metals require appropriate record keeping and paper trails. Suggestions have also included prohibiting cash payments and requiring ID or ABN identification.
It is clear that we face a large issue that affects both our economy and the safety of our communities and a solution or strong deterrent must be identified.