No matter where you are, the effects of the seemingly always-increasing price of copper are near you—professionally and personally. In Houston, telephone- and Internet-service provider Embarq last month began offering a reward of up to $6,000 per case for information that leads to charges against thieves of the company's copper cable lines. Embarq reported that over the past year it has incurred approximately $130,000 in damage to its cable systems due to theft.
In late July, about five dozen cancer patients in Vista, CA had to miss their scheduled radiation treatments after someone tore out the copper plumbing that cooled the radiation machines at their treatment facility.Authorities found the pipes at the scene and estimated they would have yielded between $300 and $400 at a recycling center.
In Mississippi, attempts to address copper theft through legislation met up with the law of unintended consequences. The law as written put into place measures that would prevent thieves from walking out of recycle centers with cash in hand. Key parts of the law required recycling facilities to gather information on people selling metals, pay by check rather than cash, and tag and hold materials for a minimum period of time. That last part—tagging and holding—caused a stir. The Metal Recyclers Association of Mississippi objected, and part of its rationale was that recycling facilities do not have sufficient secure space to store the metals. In other words, the stolen metal these recyclers accept would very likely be stolen again in the period of time it had to be held.
While the price of copper has been a sore spot for about three years, more recently, fluoropolymer, another material type used in wire and cable manufacturing, also has jumped in price. Just before writing this, I received notification that Daikin America had put into place the price increase across all its polymers that it had announced in May. Among the reasons cited for the increase was the price of sulfuric acid—a component in fluoropolymer production. A recent report says sulfuric acid's price rose tenfold, from $50 to $500 per metric ton, over a year. Sulfuric acid is a component of agricultural fertilizer, which is in extremely high demand in no small part because of increased ethanol production.
As of mid-August, Googling the exact phrase "copper theft" returns about 159,000 results. Googling "corn theft" returns 129. Not 129,000. While materials price increases may be here for the mid- to long-term, some will hit closer to home than others.