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Why is it so common for copper wire to be stolen?

December 14, 2016

Just have a look at a typical construction site today. Amongst all the construction materials piled around, there are huge spools of electric wiring. And each of those spools has a sign marked “NOT COPPER”. It seems strange, but it’s preventive, because copper theft is pervasive. The local news has no shortage of stories about copper theft, and about people stealing wire to sell the valuable copper content. In Canada and the United States it’s actually becoming a serious problem.

Copper is being stolen simply because of supply and demand dynamics. Market prices for copper have been generally high year over year. And while the markets go up and down, often with some volatility, demand for copper remains high. The fact is, most electrical wires are made of copper, and oftentimes mostly copper. So for the collectors, copper wire is a great scrap metal to collect and to cash in. As it is, amateurs have also jumped into the fray, including copper thieves.

The last decade has been a downer in terms of the economy, and unemployment still plagues the landscape. Clearly, this perpetuates the theft of copper, and construction workers seem to be part of the problem. Whatever the circumstances – whether it’s a construction site or blatant theft of copper-laden machinery – stealing copper is not uncommon. As well, punishment for scrap metal theft isn’t particularly severe, so the risks of stealing make for a good return on investment.

The bottom line is that copper wire is very valuable. For some, collecting copper will outperform the same amount of effort as collecting aluminum. Indeed, electrical contractors, large and small, routinely generate tons of scrap copper from wire, cable, and pipes. Not surprisingly, the key for a collector is to get the highest price possible from the scrap yard – and that means collecting and sorting the entire load so it’s properly prepared, with less work for the scrap yard to undertake.

Some scrap yards accept scrap copper, and purely act as the middleman, as they resell all of the material to a processor. That means less money for the collector. So it’s best to do business with a scrap metal operator who has the capacity to collect and process on site. In this way, it’s possible to garner the best possible price for the collector who is willing to prepare everything beyond the norm. Simply put, the best price goes to copper that is separated and organized by grade.

The highest price on the market actually goes to Number 1 Copper Wire – it’s wire that has no other metal contaminants. Next on the value list is Number 2 Copper Wire, which may contain some contaminants like brass or solder or plating. For the serious scrap collector, removing all of the non-copper metals will naturally raise the value of the shipment, sometimes even turning the Number 2 grade into Number 1 grade. And if the price justifies, the work is worthwhile.

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