Sept. 25 in Brighton, N.Y., was cold, wet, and rainy. But the gray Sunday morning didn’t stop the wide array of people dressed in colorful raingear from attending the town’s Public Safety event at Brighton High School. Katie Ilecki, vice president and general manager at metals recycler Metalico Rochester, arrived early to set up her booth alongside Lawrence Schillinger, compliance counsel for ISRI’s Empire and New York Chapters. She was surprised to see so many people already queued up, despite the weather, waiting to speak to them.
“There were people waiting in line with umbrellas in the pouring rain to meet with us,” she recalls. “It goes to show just how serious this issue is to the public.”
The issue, catalytic converter theft, continues to be a rampant problem for law enforcement, the public, and recyclers. In 2021, ISRI’s Empire and New York chapters began a partnership with the New York State Association of Chiefs of Police (NYSACOP) to combat metals theft.
Through his work with the partnership Schillinger became aware of a catalytic converter marking kit that could be a useful tool for the public. Made in the UK and distributed in North America by a Toronto company, the kit includes a non-destructible tag and etching fluid to engrave a unique serial number onto a catalytic converter.
“Through our relationships with NYSACOP and with the support of ISRI’s New York and Empire chapters, and member companies including Metalico and Gershow Recycling, we developed joint events to distribute these kits publicly,” Schillinger says.
The first event was held that rainy morning in Brighton. “The public was out in large numbers asking questions and trying to understand our side of the [catalytic converter] issue,” Ilecki recalls. “It was a great event to help be part of the solution and listen to the community.”
Once the event kicked off Ilecki and Schillinger were greeted by 20 to 30 people anxious to learn about the catalytic converter etching kit and how it worked. Schillinger provided a demonstration of the kit, and he and Ilecki took questions throughout the event. Even after the last kit was distributed, Ilecki says people still came by the booth to ask questions. “There was a lot of great discussion and powerful back and forth conversations trying to make sure we all understand each other and were there to help,” she says.
The conversations were eye-opening. Ilecki spoke with one woman who spent over $3,000 for a replacement catalytic converter because her insurance company didn’t cover it. “Catalytic converter theft is a real concern for people,” Ilecki says. “We were asked great questions by people who wanted to get a better understanding of where Metalico Rochester, and recyclers in general, fit into the program.”
Ilecki and Schillinger also had a conversation with Brighton Police Chief Charles “David” Catholdi. He was supportive and provided insight into how law enforcement and recyclers could continue to work together on catalytic converter theft prevention.
Schillinger didn’t stop at Brighton. On Sunday, Oct. 2, he handed out 1,000 etching kits on behalf of ISRI and Medford-based Gershow Recycling during the St. James Day Festival in Suffolk County, N.Y. Visitors had the opportunity to receive these free kits and learn how to apply the tags. Representatives from the Suffolk County Police Department, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office also attended.
“Gershow is proud to work with ISRI and the Suffolk County Police Department to educate the public on how they can prevent the most valuable part of their vehicle from being stolen,” says Ray Colon, manager at Gershow. “Wide-scale use of serial number etchings on catalytic converters will help put an end to catalytic converter theft.”
Once the serial number is etched onto a catalytic converter, the car owner can register the number through a website provided with the kit. “The serial number isn’t necessary going to stop the crime from happening,” Ilecki says. “But it will help recyclers inform law enforcement where the catalytic converters are coming from and who is bringing them in. If someone named Mary Smith has a catalytic converter registered and someone who isn’t identified as Mary Smith comes in trying to sell that catalytic converter, then we know we need to contact law enforcement.”
Participating in these types of events allow recyclers to gain a window into the public’s perspective of the problem and of the recycled materials industry. With a better understanding of their communities and their needs, recyclers are better able to provide education to the public about the industry and its value.
“It’s our responsibility to educate the public, elected officials, and regulatory officials on the important role our industry plays in protecting natural resources and making the supply chain more sustainable by supplying high-quality material to manufacturers to make new products,” Schillinger says.
Ilecki felt that people left the Brighton event with a better understanding of the process recyclers go through when materials enter their facilities. She’s already seeing the fruits of her labor. Since that Sunday she’s received phone calls and emails from event attendees with follow-up questions and tour requests of the Metalico facility.
“It’s a huge step forward,” she says. “I think it gave the public more faith and trust in us. We’re a business but we’re also community members. We live in this area; this issue has affected our families and our employees. This isn’t an ‘us against them’ situation. We’re working together.”
Ilecki strongly recommends recyclers develop good working relationships with local law enforcement and continue their due diligence when it comes to following metals theft laws. “Keeping our t’s crossed and i’s dotted is important so if law enforcement does come by, then we can provide as much information as possible and be an open book for them,” she says.
Featured image and first three photos Courtesy of Lawrence Schillinger. Fourth and fifth image Courtesy of Hank Russell/PRMG.