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Is illicit recycling the new fencing? From catalytic converters on parked cars, to drainpipes on old houses, to bronze fixtures in cemeteries, thieves have found endless sources of scrap material they can sell for a quick buck.

Last winter, South Florida was hit with a rash of truck battery thefts. This year, the same problem is surfacing in Connecticut, where police investigated six separate incidents from January to March.

The village of Yalesville, a neighborhood in Wallingford, Connecticut, is home to Tony’s Trucking Company, the latest victim in this year’s string of thefts. Tony’s usually parks all of their trucks in their garage, or behind a fence. But on Thursday night, March 20th, two trucks were parked outside of the fence. Worse, each truck was parked so that the side containing batteries was facing away from the street, toward darkness.

Fleet manager Eugene Irish reported to work at 4:30 AM that Friday.

“I wanted to start the truck and it wouldn’t start. I hopped out of the truck and (checked) the batteries. They were gone,” he said. Irish found debris on the floor, and checked inside the battery case. Each truck was relieved of three batteries.

Commercial truck batteries are a significant expense for small businesses. Depending upon their application, they can run into the hundreds for each unit. The stolen batteries may be resold, or recycled at scrapyards.

“They had to know what they were doing, because they unbolted them and they took them out… they knew what they were doing, and what they were looking for,” said Lt. Marc Mikulski of the Wallingford Police Department.

“We’re finding now that the scrap yards are paying… between 25 and 37 cents a pound for these… They’re heavier, they’re bigger and they’re getting more money at the salvage yard for them… As the scrap price for vehicle batteries continues to hold stable and/or increase in value, we expect this theft trend to be an increasing concern for businesses and law enforcement.” Commercial truck batteries can weigh over fifty pounds, and can sometimes fetch fifty cents a pound.

“They’re mostly taken in by recyclers, there’s a lot of scrap yards and recyclers in the area,” he said. “The salvage yards are reporting what they are taking in, so it’s all a matter of time before we figure out who is doing it in this area.”

Lt. Mikulski asks owners to park large vehicles “in a well-lit area. Park them close to the roadway, so the police officers going by at night can look at them.”

He further recommends locking the truck’s battery box. Finally, if trucks are parked with the battery boxes next to each other, thieves can’t access the batteries without moving the trucks.

What can recyclers, law enforcement and government do to protect business owners from theft of potential scrap metal? Schupan and Sons, a recycling outfit in Kalamazoo, Michigan, offers insight into the problem, and offers solutions for combating it on the receiving end. (See http://www.schupan.com/about-scrap-metal-theft_1)

Visit http://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/Metals/default.htm to see what the state of California is doing to prevent and prosecute scrap metal theft.