Surprising Items That Criminal Recyclers Are After

Photo: SMN

Tough economic times can breed innovation. For some, innovation comes in the form of novel sources of work. For others, it comes in the form of novel theft. The booming industry of criminal recycling is an example of the latter. Hardcore and unethical recyclers strip homes, boats, cars, and constructions sites of every conceivable item of value. The carcasses they leave behind are a testament to their creativity and desperation.

For the sake of awareness and prevention, let’s take a look at some of the more unique items that are on the shopping lists of criminal recyclers and resellers.

Catalytic Converters

Since 1975, every vehicle produced in the US has a catalytic converter as part of its exhaust system. This device minimizes air pollution by funneling hot exhaust into a converter that partially neutralizes toxic gases through a complex chemical reaction. Rhodium is the primary precious metal inside the converter that allows the chemical reaction to take place. The price of Rhodium has varied widely the past few years — from a high of $10,000 per ounce in 2008 to about $2,300 today. Converters are either sold for scrap metal or as replacement parts in other vehicles.

Trucks and SUVs are particularly attractive to thieves because they are set higher off the ground and provide easier access to the goodies. Help prevent the theft of your converter by spot-welding it to the exhaust system (rather than just bolting it), or securing it with welded bars attached to the frame of your vehicle.

Military Headstones

It takes a particularly cold heart to disturb a graveyard, but metal grave markers are next on our list. Older military headstone plates are made of bronze and are sold for scrap. Remote and urban cemeteries that don’t have regular patrols are especially susceptible to this new breed of grave robbers.

Boat Propellers

Bronze is corrosion-resistant and extremely rigid — perfect for boat propellers and just as attractive to thieves as military grave markers. Propellers are sold off by the pound as scrap.


Say goodbye to those classic memories of kissing under the bleachers. The aluminum that most modern bleachers are made from is dense and high-quality — a perfect product for criminal recyclers with a little patience and time. Camden, New Jersey, learned this the hard way in 2010: Thieves disassembled a set of 12-foot long bleachers at a local football stadium in a single night.

Solar Panels

With a booming interest in green energy and more portable solar technology, the market is expanding for cheap solar panels and thieves are there to fill the orders. Panels are stolen right off rooftops at night or while homeowners are away. The goods are sold on Craigslist or eBay at cut rates.

Methods of thwarting solar panel theft are just in their infancy. Some homeowners are installing surveillance equipment, painting the frames of the panels with a bright, easily identifiable color, or installing the panels with custom screwheads that are more difficult to remove.

We can’t completely protect items that aren’t bolted down, locked up, or under 24-hour surveillance. Recycling centers are working with law enforcement to disrupt the stream of stolen recyclables, but it’s nearly impossible to know the source and legality of all the goods that come in. As criminal recyclers get bolder and bolder, perhaps local awareness will increase and some of the more preventable losses will subside. Meanwhile, hold on to your wallet and nail down anything that moves.

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Guest's picture

I had my catalytic converter stolen off my last car. What a headache! I had to go to the shop and put out almost $800 to have it replaced and the damaged caused fixed.

Guest's picture

Believe it or not, here in the UK, robbing the lead from church roofs is making a comeback as the scumbag thief's recycle of choice.