Metal recycling benefits the environment and the economy in multiple ways. Unfortunately, scrap metal has historically been an easy target for thieves, with metal theft almost always rising alongside the prices for precious metals, steel, bronze, and copper. Tennessee has multiple laws to help ensure that what ends up in the scrap yard has been sold by legitimate owners. Many of these laws have been on the books for decades and are a regular part of doing business as a scrap metal dealer. Some are new, but none are onerous, as long as you know what to expect when selling your metal scrap.
Scrap Metal Laws in Tennessee
States across the nation have enacted multiple laws governing how scrap metal is bought and sold in an attempt to deter scrap metal theft.
Scrap Metal Business Registration
First and foremost, in Tennessee scrap metal dealers must register as a scrap metal business every two years. Before you sell your scrap metal to a dealer, make sure you verify their license with the State of Tennessee.
Scrap Metal Seller ID
Anyone selling scrap metal must be at least 18 years old, present a state or federally issued photo ID and provide a thumbprint upon sale. The scrap yard will also record your license plate number. This information ensures that law enforcement can track down anyone selling stolen metal.
Scrap Metal Records
All scrap metal dealers must keep a copy of all transactions for 3 years. They cannot pay sellers in cash but must issue a check or money order. Again, these rules help law enforcement find and pursue scrap metal thieves.
Catalytic Converter Theft
In April 2021, the Tennessee legislature passed a law stating that any person buying or selling a catalytic converter unattached to motor vehicle for scrap metal must report the sale to local law enforcement. The law went into effect July 1 and came about in response to a massive rise in catalytic converter thefts across the country in 2021.
There are also specific regulations around accepting copper, cars, railroad spikes and multiple other items.
Items Scrap Metal Yards Cannot Legally Accept
Metal theft is so common with some items in Tennessee that it’s become illegal to accept them in any scrap yard. A few of the items it’s illegal for scrap metal dealers to buy in Tennessee include:
- Beer Kegs
It’s illegal for a scrap metal dealer to accept a beer keg in any condition in the state of Tennessee. The reason: Beer kegs cost over $100 to create and almost everyone selling them to a scrap yard is renting them from a retailer or distributor.
- Air Conditioner Coils or Condensers
Scrap dealers in Tennessee cannot accept air conditioner evaporator coils or condensers, in whole or in part. We can accept the scrap metal from AC units from licensed HVAC contractors, but there are regulations surround this type of sale. Since these parts of AC units sit outside a person’s house, it’s too easy for thieves to dismantle part of the unit for scrap.
- Any Metal Marked as Government Property
Metal used for public works is a target for theft because it’s unattended and usually unmonitored. However, it’s easy for scrap yards to identify this metal as stolen. Metal used for public utilities like electricity, telephones and cable are all marked with government initials. Metal from manhole covers, street light poles, guard rails and street signs are all easy for scrap metal dealers to identify as government property. Unless the seller has documentation of ownership or as an authorized government employee, we cannot legally accept this kind of scrap.
Common Metal Theft Items
Metal theft typically centers around a handful of items that are easy for thieves to access and bring in the most bang for the buck. Roane Metal is always careful about purchasing these types of scrap metal items, as they send up red flags:
- Catalytic Converters
Catalytic converters contain several precious metals, including platinum, rhodium, and palladium. The pandemic upset mining operations and supply chains for these metals, making them even more valuable on the black market.
- Cemetery Items
Anything that looks like an urn, brass market or metal headstone plaque gives a scrap metal dealer pause. If it’s unused, it’s illegal for us to accept it. Items like these that are used are almost never monitored or attended in the cemetery, and there’s rarely a legitimate reason that someone would want to scrap items like this.
- Large Quantities of Copper Piping or Wiring
Copper is an extremely valuable metal, and we certainly buy and sell copper at Roane Metals, including copper in electric motors, housing wire and transformers. But large quantities of copper piping or wiring usually indicate that someone has been scavenging multiple homes for this metal.
- Brand New Construction Materials
The price for construction materials has skyrocketed in the last 18 months, and so has the scrap metal price for these goods. However, sometimes it’s not practical or possible for large open construction sites to secure equipment and supplies. We try to be aware of construction in our community and build relationships with local contractors to avoid purchasing stolen construction materials.
- Cars Without Titles
You can scrap a car without a title in Tennessee, but the car must be more than 12 years old. If the seller doesn’t have a title, the dealer must fill out a Title Substitution Form, and there is a 3-day holding period before the yard can crush the vehicle. This gives us time to check databases for VINs of stolen cars.
Legal, Licensed Tennessee Scrap Metal Recyclers and Dealers
Recognizing suspicious metal brought to our scrap yard is a priority for Roane Metal, both because it’s the law, and because it’s our business. If we discover an item we bought is illicit, we turn it over to law enforcement, losing both the materials and the money we paid for it.
Roane Metals Group wants to make it as easy as possible for individuals, companies, and government entities to sell their unwanted scrap while complying with all scrap metal laws in Tennessee. If you have any questions about how you will get paid for certain types of metal, please visit our blog, email us, or call us at (865) 354-4282 for East Tennessee customers or (931) 707-0907 for our Middle Tennessee customers.
NOTE: Roane Metals Group makes this information about scrap metal laws in Tennessee available as a resource or supplement to applicable laws. This article is intended to summarize these scrap metal laws and is not intended as legal advice.