Manhole cover theft is a big problem in China. Every year, tens of thousands are taken off city streets to be sold as scrap metal; according to official figures, 240,000 pieces were stolen in Beijing alone in 2004.
It can be dangerous – people have died after falling from an open manhole, including several toddlers – and authorities have tried various tactics to stop it, from covering metal panels with mesh to chaining them to a street lamp. However, the problem remains. There is a huge scrap metal recycling business in China that satisfies the demand for vital industrial metals, so high-value items like manhole covers can easily fetch some cash.
Now the eastern city of Hangzhou is trying something new: GPS chips embedded in blankets. The city authorities have begun installing 100 so-called “smart hatches” on the streets. (Thanks to Shanghaiist for flagging this story.)
Tao Xiaomin, a spokesman for the Hangzhou city government, told Xinhua News Agency: “When the lid moves and tilts at an angle of more than 15 degrees, the tag sends us an alarm.” will allow the authorities to track down the harborers immediately.
The relatively expensive and extreme way that authorities use GPS to track manhole covers speaks both to the extent of the problem and the difficulty of preventing people from stealing large metal plates.
This theft is not unique to China. But the problem tends to be more prevalent in fast-growing developing countries – India, for example, is also plagued by hatch thefts – and these countries often have huge demand for metals used in industries such as construction.
China’s appetite for metals is so great that it is at the center of a multi-billion dollar scrap metal industry that spans the globe. As Adam Minter, a writer for Junkyard Planet, explains in a Bloomberg article, there are two main ways to get an important industrial metal like copper: mine it or recycle it until it’s pure enough to be smelted.
China uses both methods, but consumers generate enough waste for the country to provide itself with scrap. Metal traders around the world sell metal to China, including American businessmen who can make millions collecting and transporting American junk such as old copper wire.
Closer to home, high demand for scrap steel has given opportunistic Chinese thieves plenty of incentive to rip out manhole covers. This prompted officials in Hangzhou to come up with another innovation: their new “smart” lantern was specially made from malleable iron, which has a very low scrap value. It may simply mean that stealing them isn’t worth the hassle.
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Post time: Jun-05-2023