Demand from China and overall soaring prices for metals such as aluminum, copper, zinc, etc. has led to increased theft of recyclable metal commodities across North America. Metal items, including highway and bridge guard rails, manhole covers and lamp posts, have been hauled away for sale to scrap dealers. The trend is now impacting blue-box curbside recycling programs in Toronto and elsewhere. Informal (and illegal) street scavengers may receive 1.5 cents for an aluminum soft-drink can.
Toronto collects about 90 million cans per year, three-quarters of them from single-family homes. There’s an average of five in each home’s blue box. The lowest amount the city has collected in aluminum revenues in the past decade is $1.96-million (2004). The city’s aluminum revenue goes up as prices rise, but some of the increase is lost to scavengers. The most recent world price per ton of aluminum is the highest in 17 years at $2,903, an increase of 85 per cent since 2002 (when it was $1,568).
Working against the scavengers is the trend toward single-stream recycling. In Toronto, the co-mingling of containers with fibre makes it more difficult for the thieves to pluck out the valuable cans. In parts of Scarborough, the city is testing replacements for the 20-year-old blue box. Staff hope that tied-up blue bags or large single-stream carts be too much of a nuisance for scavengers, who must work quickly and quietly.