With scrap iron and steel prices rebounding over the last year, towns, entrepreneurs and salvage yards are making more money. But so, according to some, are crooks.
"Some of the problems we have in the industry out there are people stealing," said Eric Tetler, who owns Windfield Alloy, which has locations in Atkinson and Lawrence.
As commodity prices rise, scrap metal is worth much more than it was a year ago. In some areas, that means tightened security, and thefts.
Lana Borgie, an economist for the producer price index, said the price of iron and steel scrap increased 106.8 percent since March 2009.
"It's gone way up," she said.
Much of that is a rebound from a steep drop in mid-2008, when the financial crisis hit the commodity market, which had been seeing very high prices, she said.
The price of aluminum base scrap also has increased 76.5 percent in the last year, she said.
Tetler said business has been up in recent months. To keep up — and to keep out people who are looking to profit on stolen scrap — Windfield uses technology, he said. Workers photograph what comes to their facility and ask for identification.
"As you're coming in, everything is reported, and it's reported directly into the police station," he said.
Tetler said there have been arrests at his facilities when workers figure out someone is trucking in stolen scrap metal or copper. But for honest people, removing scrap metal — with permission — from yards or curbs can be a nice side business, he said.
"It's a good little niche," Tetler said. "The problem you still get confronted with is, where are they getting this material? Are they jumping over someone's back picket fence to steal their swimming pool?"
He said his business has seen more material arriving in the last few months, after what he said was "a really soft year for everyone in the industry" in 2009. In addition to better prices, government programs rewarding people for upgrading to new appliances — and junking old ones — have contributed to the volume.
"The biggest aspect is iron," he said. "A lot more people are scrapping out the old swing set in the yard."
He also receives scrap metal from local municipalities.
"Towns are generating quite the revenue," he said.
That's the case in Derry, where recycling coordinator Joannie Cornetta said the town has exceeded its projected revenue for recycling this year.
"We've been doing very good," she said.
She said the town sells between 700 and 750 tons of light iron every year. Even when prices were low, she said, transfer station workers were carefully sorting metals to make the most money, shipping some overseas where prices were higher. She said the money earned by recycling metals offsets the cost of trash removal.
"We did very well last year; we did over $400,000," she said. "I'm really hoping we're going to exceed that."
And that shouldn't be too hard, she said, with the value of the metals far above this time last year.
"We were just about giving it away," she said.
Cornetta said the town now earns about $230 a ton for light iron, and $280 for cast iron. But the increased value means increased interest from thieves, she said. The transfer station was broken into over the weekend and again Tuesday night, she said.
"They just cleaned us out of copper," she said.
Tuesday afternoon in Londonderry, a caller reported someone stealing scrap metal from a trash container behind the closed Sears Essentials, police said.
Lt. Scott Saunders said it's not an unusual crime, although copper is more popular with thieves than scrap iron or steel.
"It does happen often," he said. "Although, that's a crime that's increased probably four or five years ago, especially with the price of copper rising."
He said it is more common in industrial areas because some companies use, and dispose of, a great deal of metal. Homes and other buildings have been burglarized for copper pipes and wires, Saunders said.
Pam Hoyt-Denison, a waste program administrator with the state Department of Environmental Services, said most towns recycle scrap metal.
When the market for scrap metal is poor, she said, some people might hold on to the material until they can net more money. Even when prices for the scrap metal are low, she said, it's much more expensive to dispose of it.
"Solid waste can be costly per ton and metal is one of the heaviest things we can dispose of," she said.
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