There are global environmental and design impacts as well economic and safety issues arising from the thefts.
To prevent theft of copper wire from electrical substations, for example, Seattle Washington-area electrical engineers are changing designs by substituting steel clad copper wire for plain copper - which of course could mean that recyclability is reduced even for legitimate intermediaries. And, the new record keeping requirements needed to discourage 'theft-cycling' add overhead for recyclers already operating on slim margins.
By combining new deterrent technologies with increased law enforcement, PSE has decreased copper thefts from substations by 28 percent and more than doubled the number of arrests by law enforcement since January in the nine counties where the utility provides electric service.
The new technologies include replacing chain-link fencing around substations with extruded steel fencing – fencing that cannot be cut; and applying data dots – spray-on microscopic labels to copper wire for identification by recycling centers and law enforcement agencies. PSE is also replacing copper with new materials such as copper-weld, a steel line coated in copper, which has virtually no recycle value.
Methamphetamine addicts seem to play a key role in the thefts. Here's the money quote:-
In addition to PSE’s efforts, a law requiring recycling companies to maintain detailed transaction records and seller information, as well as making it a misdemeanor for companies to knowingly purchase metals from a person convicted of theft or crimes involving methamphetamine, has been a significant factor in the declining thefts.
While looking for a suitable graphic for this post we came across a product called Copper Cop, which is apparently an alarm system that one installs to the outdoor compressor portion of an air conditioner to prevent thieves from stealing the copper tubing from the refrigerant distribution and return system. The theft of these copper tubes, of course ,would liberate all of the ozone depleting HCFC gases in the system . This would be several pounds worth. Junkies messing up the stratospheric ozone: it's not enough they have to destroy their own lives.
This is even worse than divorce causing people to use more resources!
Now would be a good time to blame the 1960's counter culture movement for both problems. (joking)