“It was a sizable inconvenience,” Stewart said. “But we are willing to do it if it is enforced unilaterally across the board.”
That is something he said hasn’t always happened. While enforcement is tight in the city of Marietta, some people who sell scrap metal will head for other jurisdictions.
“We just err on the side of caution,” Stewart said. “If there is any chance anything is wrong in the transaction, we don’t buy it, so they leave here and go someplace else and we lose business.”
Georgia House Bill 872, passed in March, requires every metal recycler to register with the local sheriff and report all the metal it brings in to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation each night.
Now, each customer at Marietta Recycling must register and is given a number they use on each visit. When they return, they provide a card with their number on it, which pulls up their driver’s license and other information, including the vehicle they drive and tag number.
Lighter items are placed on a scale in the facility’s shop, while heavier loads on truck beds are weighed outside. All items are photographed while on the scale, Stewart said. In addition, pictures are taken of the seller when they are speaking to a cashier through a window.
“We have to create a big paper trail,” Stewart said. “The law basically makes us patrol our own industry. All the cost is on the scrap yards.”
The Marietta Police Department heads up the Copperhead Metal Task Force, a multijurisdictional effort against metal theft. In a recent sting operation, MPD used undercover officers to sell regulated metals to the city’s three metal recycling companies, with undercover officers setting up customer accounts and making at least five attempts to sell metal at each of the businesses.
Over a three-month period between March and May, three employees at Blaze Recycling and one employee at one at ABC Recycling were cited for not obtaining customer and vehicle information required by law. Marietta Recycling was the only one of the three not to be found in violation.
Possible sentences for the employees will be up to a state court judge, MPD spokesman Officer David Baldwin said.
MPD Detective Russell Henson said the city has seen a decrease in metal thefts in residential areas since the task force was started in July 2011, while commercial area metal thefts have been steady with previous reports. Between November 2011 and this month, there have been 58 metal theft reports in Marietta, with the peak month being December, when 11 thefts were reported. Between July 1 and 23, there was only one reported theft.
It is too early to determine what effect the new state law is having on metal theft, Henson said.
“However, we have noted there is an effort being made on the part of metal recyclers to train their employees, establish procedures and comply with the new laws,” he said.
Indeed, the law hasn’t stopped all metal theft. On July 5, metal thieves stole 22 catalytic converters belonging to the Cobb County School District, the second time the district had been the victim of metal theft in a year.
Efforts to reach ABC Recycling were not successful, while Blaze Recycling referred questions to the Georgia Recyclers Association, a statewide group that lobbies on behalf of the scrap metal industry.
Speaking for Georgia Recyclers, Frank Goulding of East Point-based Newell Recycling said the timing of the law causes a “triple whammy” for recyclers because it coincided with a recent 35 percent drop in steel prices and a typical summer slowdown. But the law is affecting recyclers in metro Atlanta less than in locations closer to states like Alabama and Florida, where some people will go to sell metal because laws are not as strong.
But Goulding said the law does have positives, like creating a statewide database of people who sell metal.
“Long term, the law will be good,” he said.
Goulding said his company can now buy metal immediately using checks or electronic transfer. It can also issue vouchers, where sellers can come back in 72 hours to pick up a cash payment. Before the law went into effect, companies could immediately pay cash for metal.
Chip Doyle of Marietta, who was selling a small amount of scrap metal at Marietta Recycling last week, said he has sold before and after the new law. He doesn’t see the change as a major hassle for sellers.
“Ever since I’ve been doing this, I’ve had to show I.D.,” he said. “If you get it here, you’ve got to have I.D. — I would hope.”