<p>This paper explores the effects of, and apparent cause of, unprecedented levels of metal theft from the built environment (both in the UK and globally) in the period 2005 to 2008. Readily accessible and unguarded metallic elements present in the built environment, such as manhole covers, road signs, church roofs, electricity substations, rail cable, statues, memorial plaques, wiring and piping have all been pillaged, causing major distress, disruption and/or repair expense. This paper describes the relationship between soaring metal prices for copper and lead and economic demand in China and examines the contemporary legal, policy and practical responses to the metal theft phenomenon. Through this analysis the paper shows how metal theft raises some unusual (and uncomfortable) questions about what happens when recycling becomes too successful in terms of its financial attractiveness and the ease of integration of materials back into the materials markets. The paper explains that whilst neither metal theft nor attempts at its regulation are new, the scale of contemporary metal theft calls for a greater focus and co-ordination of asset defence and enforcement action at national policy level.</p
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