The actual reason nobody’s interested in stealing your scrap metal, anymore.

On Monday the New York Times ran a very good portrait of a Detroit metal scrapper going about his business, scrounging for metal and seeking places to sell it. Business isn’t what it used to be, the Times tells us, mostly thanks to a spate of law enforcement measures that make it harder to fence scrap – especially copper wire and plumbing – from abandoned buildings. The proof is in the data: Detroit issued 222 warrants for scrap metal theft in 2012. This year, it’s issued “around 25.”

It’s not just Detroit. The UK’s Local Government Association points to the 2013 passage of a Scrap Metal Dealers Act as the reason that there were “only” 40,680 metal thefts in England and Wales in 2014, compared to 59,788 in 2013.  Likewise, last May the US’s National Insurance Crime Bureau [NCIB] revealed that insured metal theft had declined 26% between 2011 and 2013, from 14,676 cases to 10,807 – and it pointed specifically to legislation and law enforcement as the restraining factor.

No doubt, law enforcement has played an important role in restricting the easy options for metal thieves to fence scrap. But I’d argue the more important reason metal theft – especially copper theft – has declined over the last three years is embodied in the chart I’ve pasted below (click to enlarge). It shows the price of copper, dating back to its five year highs in early 2011 – and its precipitous, nearly 50% decline ever since (mostly thanks to falling Chinese demand). The price of scrap copper, including wires pulled from your home’s walls, is based on these prices:

copper

At those prices, it’s probably still worth scrapping if you’re desperate – like the fellow profiled by the NYT. But for criminals who might have other options (including other options for selling it), the difference between $4/lb copper and $2.50/lb copper is probably big enough to make you think twice about breaking into an abandoned house to pull out its wiring. Continue reading

I’ve been cloned … on twitter. [UPDATED]

A few months ago a friend emailed to say that he’d searched for me on twitter and found twenty accounts using my name, photo, and bio. I looked, and he was right: I was being impersonated. But here’s the thing: the actual twitter handle – the thing that starts with an @ – wasn’t some permutation of @adamminter. Rather, it was always @XHnews plus some random string of letters. As many of my readers know, @XHnews is the official, verified account of Xinhua, China’s state-owned news agency, purveyor of news and propaganda to the world.

IMG_0249

Why would someone want to make a mash-up of me and Xinhua? I have no idea. But anyway, Twitter doesn’t make it easy to get rid of these accounts – you have to fill out a form for each one. Still, once I finished complaining about the first, I couldn’t stop, and after 20 minutes or so I’d dutifully complained about each Minter/Xinhua mashup, and a few days later they were gone. Or so I thought.

Because a few weeks later they were back. Only this time, it wasn’t two dozen mashups – there were more than fifty. This time I filed a single impersonation report with twitter and added a note explaining this curious situation, and begging that twitter delete every Adam Minter that starts with a @XHnews. And they did … Continue reading

Watsons Malaysia Explains Itself – Badly.

It’s been one week since I blogged about a bottle of tampered-with, over-the-counter medicine that I purchased at Watsons, Asia’s largest personal care chain (a drug store, basically). The blog post – and the story behind it – went totally viral in Malaysia thanks to Samantha Khor who wrote it up for says.com, a hugely popular Malaysian website. Since then, I’ve received a bit of clarity on what, precisely, happened.

But first, let’s back up to last Tuesday. Out of curiosity, I returned to the Watsons outlet where I’d bought that bottle of Panadol, looking to see if the chain was still selling tampered-with packages. What I found astounded me: not only were they selling a tampered-with package – they were selling the very same bottle of Panadol I had returned to the store several days earlier for having been tampered with (easily identifiable due to the serial number on the box)! Below, a photo of the returned bottle on the shelf. Compare it – and the serial number – to the photo I posted on Monday – they are one and the same (a fact later confirmed, which I’ll get to).IMG_2255

I was planning to blog that on Thursday, but before I could I received a phone call from Danny Hoh, Head of Marketing at Watsons, on Thursday afternoon. Continue reading

American Dockworkers Are Savaging Your Recycling Bin.

Last year, roughly one-third of the recycling generated in the United States was exported to more than 160 countries and territories. That’s 42.8 million tons – enough weight to fill over 2 million standard-sized shipping containers – worth $23.7 billion. China was the top destination for those exports (Canada was number two), while South Korea, Japan, and India were in the top ten. So when, back in July, a labor dispute and slowdown hit US West Coast ports, one of its first and most significant victims was the multi-billion dollar trans-Pacific trade in recycling, much of which ships from those ports.

ContainersAtPort

In recent weeks, the toll – both economic and environmental – has started to come due. In San Francisco the city’s recycling contractor is running out of space to store recyclable paper and cardboard that typically ships to Asia, and the excess is piling up in mountains of cardboard. In neighboring San Mateo County, a different contractor, who also depends on shipping scrap paper to Asia, did run out of space – and the city had to lease it a 28,000 square foot warehouse to hold it. Meanwhile, two weeks ago, the California Refuse Recycling Council, a trade group, warned Governor Jerry Brown that its members might soon be forced to redirect all that California recycling to “disposal.” In other words: unless recyclers can start shipping to Asia again, a lot of scrap paper and cardboard might be landfill-bound. Continue reading

An Update on My Watsons/GSK Kerfuffle

My Monday blog post taking issue with Watsons Malaysia and its handling of product safety and social media has been circulated much more widely than I ever expected. This is, in large part, due to says.com, a Malaysian news site that covered it on Wednesday, with this story by Samantha Khor.

Thanks to that story Watsons reached out to me late Thursday afternoon, and again at 10 PM on Thursday night. During the second call Watsons agreed to give me a written statement on steps they’ve taken and will take in response to my post. I believe that I will have that at some point on Friday, and when I do, I’ll put together a blog post covers everything that’s happened – including the steps that Watsons told me on the phone that it will take to ensure product safety in its Malaysian stores.

[UPDATE: On Friday evening, just as I was about to publish an update, I spoke to GSK, the manufacturer of Panadol. Based on that conversation, I’m going to wait until Monday to publish an update.]

In the meantime, I have a request of readers in Malaysia: if you have a moment could you please stop by your local Watsons outlet and check whether the box seals on 50-tablet bottles of Panadol are intact. If the seal is broken, could you send a photo of the box, the broken seal, and – this is important – the serial number on the box, to ShanghaiScrap at gmail.com.

More soon.

Watsons Malaysia Isn’t Safe for Shopping or Social Media – a Shanghai Scrap investigation.

[aka the triumphant return of Shanghai Scrap, shopping avenger.]

Last week I badly wanted a bottle of Panadol (a product my US readers would know as Tylenol, ie acetaminphen), so I went down to my local Watsons (specifically, the Amcorp Mall location in Petaling Jaya) – the largest “personal care” chain aka “drug store” chain in Asia – and bought a bottle. When I arrived home and prepared to open it, I noticed something very, very troubling – the safety seal on the box had been cut open and then re-sealed. See photo below.

panadol

Now, that’s a safety violation of the first order. In the US, for example, it’s a violation of FDA guidelines – and I assume that’s the case the world over, including in Malaysia. The idea, of course, is to protect consumers from anyone who might – for whatever reason – tamper with the medicine inside (regulations inspired by the Chicago Tylenol murders of 1982). Out of curiosity, I opened the opened box, anyway (because I had a really, really bad headache). And inside it went from bad to worse: the bottle lacked a safety seal. In other words, thanks to Watsons, this package of Panadol was unsafe; anybody could’ve altered the contents. Continue reading

More iPhone, More Carbon.

Earlier this week, when Apple announced that it was building a solar-powered data center in Mesa, Arizona, I immediately thought of their phones. To be sure, there’s much to admire in Apple’s commitment to reducing its internal carbon footprint. But that admiration needs to be tempered by an equally relevant set of facts: the carbon emissions associated with each generation of the iPhone are actually growing.

More carbon with every bite.

More carbon with every bite.

The trend was brought to my attention in a blog post by the Restart Project, a London-based collective that promotes repair and maintenance of old products. As they point out, Apple laudably discloses carbon emissions for each of its products via publicly available environmental reports. And according to those reports, the carbon emissions associated with an iPhone have been growing with each new model, from 70kg for the 4s, to 75kg for 5s, to 95kg for the iPhone 6 (Apple doesn’t break out respective carbon emission rates for the 6 and the 6 Plus) that was selling –  according to Apple – 34,000 units per hour during its last reported quarter. That’s a whopping 35% increase in per iPhone carbon emissions over three phone generations.

Continue reading