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THE HOYOS FILE: Will it be R.I.P. for copper dealer RPI?

BEA DOTTIN, [email protected]

THE HOYOS FILE: Will it be R.I.P. for copper dealer RPI?

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You might say Peter Chesham is the “copper king” of Barbados, since he estimates that the company which he started in 1994, Recycling Preparation Inc. (RPI), purchases around 80 per cent of all copper sold as scrap metal here in Barbados.
While other recyclers are much bigger and deal in a wider variety of waste and metals, RPI deals in non-ferrous metals only (copper, aluminium and brass).
In those early days – it was just after the first Barbados Labour Party administration led by Owen Arthur had come to power – he said copper was fetching about $1 200 per tonne on the international market. Today, it is $7 700 per tonne.
Over the years, he said, the price paid for copper by the recyclers has moved from 60 US cents to over US$4 per pound, a result of local competition to dominate the lucrative second-hand copper market.
Mr Chesham says the high price has encouraged professional thieves to get into the supply side, but if the price went down to even $2.50 per pound it would not be worth their time and effort. However, he has been unable to get the other scrap purchasers to lower their prices.
The price of copper recently has been just under US$4 per pound while gold is US$25 000 per pound or around US$1 600 an ounce.
Mr Chesham says he is worried about the new legislation covering the scrap metal business in Barbados, which has come about due to the sharp rise in crime relating to gold and other precious and non-precious metals.
The new act, titled the Precious Metals And Second Hand Metals Act 2013, came into effect at the end of January, and while Mr Chesham understands the need for action to be taken, he says the way the legislation is worded will eventually drive his business into the ground.
Copper is not gold and should not be lumped in with it in the new legislation, he maintains. Putting copper buyers into the same bag as gold buyers “just doesn’t make any sense,” he says.
For example, he says, “what they’re asking us to do is write everybody cheques.”
But he says a lot of elderly people bring in old copper items worth between $5 and $70. “They probably find scrap metal or it’s given to them by friends and neighbours. They certainly don’t steal it. To pay cheques on that is just going to stop the business.”
He says the big crime wave the country is experiencing at present is related to gold, not copper.
“I have never heard of anyone being shot, stabbed or mugged for copper. Yes, the thieves are going into people’s properties and stealing it, and we’ve got to deal with that, but it is not the serious crime that is happening with gold.”
Mr Chesham says the copper, aluminum and brass which he buys as scrap are neither precious metals like gold or silver, nor are they second-hand metals, which suggests continuing use in their current state.
“You can have a second-hand car, watch or bracelet, but the stuff that we deal with is scrap. It has to go away to be recycled to become useful again as a product.”
In addition, he says, under the new legislation the seller will have to supply a note stating he or she is authorised to sell the metal. “That is never going to happen,” he says.
“Everybody who drives a truck in Barbados who picks up scrap as they drive around the island in the course of their business and used to take it to the dump, doesn’t do that anymore. They bring it here because they know it’s worth money. Manufacturing companies have waste which comes to us.”
This is a cash business which will go away under the strict rules of the new law, he says.
 “The majority of our business will stop completely when we have to comply with all of this.”
He says that the law also requires the purchaser to describe the features of people on the records they make of the items purchased. “I couldn’t even start to do that – I wouldn’t have a clue,” he says.
He says he would also be required to keep all of the scrap purchased for ten days before doing anything with it, but that would cause bottlenecks in his present operation and call for a much larger storage area than he has at present.
“We should have a separate act for scrap dealers, and we should be informed and asked our opinions on how that should work,” he says. “We know this has to be done and that old act is rubbish. We know we will have to do things we probably won’t like doing but we don’t want to kill the business either.”
Mr Chesham says that every day a list of all of RPI’s transactions is sent over to the police, complete with ID numbers and other information relating to the purchasers.
He would like to see his company come to an agreement with the other two major copper purchasing operations to bring down the price being paid for copper, as that would in itself go a long way to take the profit out of the market for the professionals.
• Pat Hoyos is a long-standing journalist and publisher of the?Broad Street Journal.