Essential information for end of life vehicle dismantling, depollution and recycling


How the recycling sector can step up to help cut down CAT theft

Robin Edwards, owner of ONIS Consulting, and consultant to Industry and Law Enforcement agencies, and currently working with the British Transport Police looks at what steps can be taken by the recycling sector to further decrease catalytic converter (CAT) theft.


How the recycling sector can step up to cut down CAT theft? f
Robin Edwards

Several challenges exist when it comes to investigating thefts of catalytic converters, and in most cases, we are up against the same difficulties when we examine metal crime. It’s important I again stress that we can’t police our way out of metal crime, and those that suggest we can lack the understanding to truly grasp the scale and complexity of the problem. The factors that impact effective investigation and prevention are linked to intelligence, knowledge, resources, and identification which all offer significant challenges in their own way.

You can’t deal with a problem if you don’t really understand what you are dealing with. Let me put this into context, we all know that catalytic converters are stolen along with copper, lead, and other metals; we also know that most of this metal makes its way into the legitimate recycling sector. What we don’t always know is, who stole it, who accepted it, and how it entered the supply chain.

So how do we overcome this problem and fill the intelligence gaps we know exist?

In the first instance, we need to understand the scale of the problem we are facing, and although this doesn’t sound difficult to address, it couldn’t be further from the truth. For example, when we look at catalytic converter theft, it is soon realised that different sources provide different numbers. The police data is based on crimes reported, so if your catalytic converter is stolen and reported to the police, they will create an incident and then issue a crime number which will allow you to make a claim on your insurance. We then consider those who don’t report the theft because it either isn’t covered by their policy excess or they know their premium will increase.

In these circumstances, the crime figures cease to provide an accurate picture of the situation. Thefts are not recorded and slip under the radar, and I can’t speculate how many there are because I genuinely don’t know. However, I am confident the reported figures do not reflect the true picture, which is a problem when securing resources and focusing on activity.

To give you an example; If you had two catalytic converters reported stolen in a locality over a period of a week, it would raise concerns, but not enough to divert resources to tackle the problem. If, however, ten catalytic converters had been stolen and not reported, the victims, would not be aware if others had been stolen, and if no claims had been made, how would anybody know there was an issue. If the group responsible were organised and travelled from area to area committing multiple crimes, they could operate with impunity as nobody would know they existed. This is a real issue and why we are trying to obtain crime data from all sources and map it out so we can accurately identify trends and patterns to allow us to deploy resources when and where they are required.

In my last article, I talked about the National Infrastructure Crime Reduction Partnership, (NICRP) and how it has and continues to bring agencies together to tackle metal crime and will offer a long-term framework that provides the continuity that has been lacking with previous initiatives. However, I only touched on the work of the NICRP, and I would like to expand on our activities and cover them in a little more detail.

We are working closely with SmartWater, and their Centre for Infrastructure and Asset Protection (CIAP) and they have developed a National Database for the registration of catalytic converters that will enable police to identify whether recovered catalytic converters are stolen and thereby increases the risk to thieves.

Rachael Oakley, Head of the Centre for Infrastructure and Asset Protection, recently said:

“This latest spike in catalytic converter thefts represents a considerable issue for police, as a lack of clear, distinguishable marks and traceability mean it is difficult for officers to prosecute thieves. However, with the creation of the National Database of Catalytic Converters, thieves will now be held to account for their actions and offences will be traced, sending out a powerful deterrent message.”

To provide some context, the Centre for Infrastructure and Asset Protection is an intelligence unit made up of analysts who are accredited Police contractors tracking organised crime gangs around the UK. They work with police on the National Infrastructure Crime Reduction Partnership to reduce and tackle crime against the national critical infrastructure. This is a police/private partnership and one that is beginning to deliver significant benefits as we tackle metal crime.

Toyota is taking steps to combat the increase in catalytic converter thefts as they join forces with us to register their catalytic converters on the National Asset Database. The catalytic converters are marked with SmartWater, and the details are recorded on their database, which police and other enforcement agencies can access. In addition, they can map the crimes identify hot spots and other factors that would assist enforcement agencies in terms of being proactive in reducing thefts and identifying and arresting offenders.

The process of marking the catalytic converters is quite simple. The special SmartWater solution is simply painted onto the vehicle’s catalytic converter, and SmartWater scientists only need a speck of the solution to identify the vehicle it came from. This enables the police to prosecute thieves and those who turn a blind eye to what they accept, no questions asked. This ability for enforcement agencies to link a catalytic converter to a theft through the unique marking makes it a much more hostile environment for those who are involved in this type of criminality. We are also working with the recycling sector and will be encouraging them to actively examine all items they are offered, which we know from experience reduces the opportunities for criminals to sell on stolen property.

The work of the National Infrastructure Crime Reduction Partnership with the support of SmartWater and partners is really starting to have an impact. As I mentioned last month, we reduced the number of catalytic converter thefts by fifty per cent during the week of action in April, and this trend has continued. As more and more catalytic converters are marked, the environment for those involved in criminality becomes more difficult and the risk of detection and prosecution increases, making it a much less attractive proposition for the criminal. We need the recycling sector to step up and work with us to reduce the opportunities for criminals to operate if we are going to cut crime and convict offenders effectively. We ask you to examine the items you are offered and if you have any suspicions, report it to the authorities. As I stated at the beginning of this piece, we can’t police our way out of this, and it is only by working together that we will make a real impact on crime and remove those rogue traders that undermine us all.

The National Infrastructure Crime Reduction Partnership (NICRP) is working with international partners as we all pull together to tackle a problem that is not confined to the UK. The sharing of knowledge, tactics, and intelligence is a leap forward in dealing with metal crime globally, and I am confident the structures will be in place to make a real long-term difference.

You can contact Robin by visiting or calling him on 0793 011 5709.


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Owain joined Volvo Cars in June 2021 to lead Circular Economy in the Global Sustainability Team. The company has committed to being a circular business by 2040 and has financial, recycled content and CO2 based targets for 2025, all of which Owain is working across the company to make happen. Owain previously worked for circular economy consultancy Oakdene Hollins where he advised businesses on evidence led circular economy implementation. 

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