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Columbus Proposes Toughened Recycled Metal Ordinance

The rising cost of metal is contributing to increased theft in the Columbus area. The city council is considering a proposal that would toughen regulations on the sale of household appliances and other scrap metals for recycling.

Columbus city councilman Andrew Ginther says that the demand for scrap metal is at an all time high. And it's affecting a lot of Columbus neighborhoods.

"There are folks that are actually stealing air conditioners, old beat up cars as well as catalytic converters, even guardrails, utility poles, manhole covers, park benches and goal posts," Ginther says.

For the past six months Ginther says he's been working to toughen the city's scrap metal ordinance. The resulting rules would require the recording of serial numbers from pieces of scrap. They would also require more detailed identification about the seller - who already must supply a driver's license or social security number. The new regulations would mandate collecting the seller's license plate number and his or her thumb print. An earlier draft mandated the tagging of each item that was sold. But Jacob Garrett, vice president at Joyce Iron and Metal Company, says with hundreds of customers a day that would have been impossible.

"There is no way you could put a tag on every piece of metal that comes in here and associate that with a name," Garrett says.

That section of the ordinance has been modified. The scrap purchaser instead must keep a video recording of the pieces that are bought and provide police with a daily listing of transactions.

Joyce Iron and Metal is one of the larger recyclers. Garrett says that about 20% of his customers are people who haul in material off the street. He says his employees turn away anything suspicious. The company has signs posted that say they don't buy manhole covers, sewer grates, or shopping carts. The new legislation, Garrett says, will likely put some smaller recyclers and some of the people who pick up scrap metal legitimately out of business.

"The public that picks up discarded metal performs a public service for this city, it can't go to a landfill," Garrett says. "Columbus bulk pickup could never keep up with the amount of stoves and hot water heaters and stuff like that that people put out to be picked up. I think if this city wants to be the green city that Mayor Coleman claims that he wants it to be, he's going to have a hard time achieving that goal when there's scrap metal littered throughout the streets."

"Scrap collector Rich Radcliff had just finished handing over a load at Joyce and was headed to the office for his money. He echoed Garrett's comments.

"It would be a problem for a lot of things," Radcliff said. "Be a problem for the trash pile, too. You imagine how much stuff comes in here every day. Imagine that stuff not coming in here and being piled up somewhere. Every day."

The new ordinance, among other things, would limit the sale of household appliances to two a day in most cases. Councilman Ginther says the new ordinance is "tough but reasonable." Joyce Metal's Jacob Garrett describes it this way.

"It's a nice try but I think it falls way short in the common sense department."

Councilman Ginther disagrees. He says the city can't wait for the issue to by addressed by the state legislature.

"There are some folks that say if the city adopts this then they'll move out of the city limits and you really need a statewide approach to this," Ginther says. "We couldn't agree more, but we're not going to wait on the state legislature. Our constituents want action taken now."

The city council is expected to vote on the measure next week.