Eli5 why is copper so valuable

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Basically the title why is it valuable enough for ppl to steal meters of copper from train rails but the copper wire you get in the store is dirt cheap. I just don’t understand the difference I guess
Edit: damn apparently it’s much more complex than I thought, thanks for all the comments!

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12 Answers

Anonymous 0 Comments

It is easy to form into shapes. It doesn’t corrode very fast. It doesn’t taint drinking water. It conducts heat and electricity very well. So it is used for wires for electric power, pipes for drinking water and as heat sinks.

Why do grifters steal it? Because they can get some cash for it and they mostly don’t die stealing it.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s not. Currently the market price is $3.98 /lb. The money is in the volume. Copper thefts are generally large volumes like the track you mentioned. If you have easy access to unprotected metal and a truck to move it, it becomes pretty simple to steal a few thousand pounds of the stuff. Further, it’s easy to melt down and sell so you can cash it out pretty quick too. Since there’s a large legal market for copper scrap, you wouldn’t look out of place selling a few tonnes of it either.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s not. Currently the market price is $3.98 /lb. The money is in the volume. Copper thefts are generally large volumes like the track you mentioned. If you have easy access to unprotected metal and a truck to move it, it becomes pretty simple to steal a few thousand pounds of the stuff. Further, it’s easy to melt down and sell so you can cash it out pretty quick too. Since there’s a large legal market for copper scrap, you wouldn’t look out of place selling a few tonnes of it either.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It is easy to form into shapes. It doesn’t corrode very fast. It doesn’t taint drinking water. It conducts heat and electricity very well. So it is used for wires for electric power, pipes for drinking water and as heat sinks.

Why do grifters steal it? Because they can get some cash for it and they mostly don’t die stealing it.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Train rails? They aren’t copper.

It can easily be recycled and reworked, which is important as we use it for electrical cables, refrigerant lines (eg air conditioners), certain plumbing applications, and motors for EV – all going to become more necessary in the future.

Also, covid lockdowns had affected the ability to mine and process new stuff, so supply of copper was affected which rose the price about 2 years ago significantly, but now has returned to normal levels.

It’s not the most valuable metal to sell as scrap, but for scavengers it’s easy to obtain large amounts relatively easily. They’ll break into unoccupied buildings or those under construction and rip out and steal what they can as quick as they can. They’ll even risk their lives stealing from active power lines, and may be disappointed to learn they are less valuable aluminum. They may even steal telephone lines which may be what you are referring to. They might just cut whatever loose parts they can or break the plasterboard on walls to rip it out.

It’s also easy to extract the copper from insulation to get the bare metal which will grant higher prices, as compared to something like steel which may be a structural component (harder to steal, pardon the pun) or otherwise be coated in paints that make it harder to process. It has a higher melting point and is overall more abundant to mine and produce.

You’ve got to remember that for me to buy a 100m drum of cable where I live, with discounts, will cost me about $200. About a month ago, the prices a scrap dealer quoted me would net me about $40-50 if I were to immediately scrap it. If I were to spend hours stripping it, or buy a machine to do it for me, I might get up to about $100.

It’s only valuable to tradesmen who use enough to generate off cuts, or thieves who have no purchase cost.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Train rails? They aren’t copper.

It can easily be recycled and reworked, which is important as we use it for electrical cables, refrigerant lines (eg air conditioners), certain plumbing applications, and motors for EV – all going to become more necessary in the future.

Also, covid lockdowns had affected the ability to mine and process new stuff, so supply of copper was affected which rose the price about 2 years ago significantly, but now has returned to normal levels.

It’s not the most valuable metal to sell as scrap, but for scavengers it’s easy to obtain large amounts relatively easily. They’ll break into unoccupied buildings or those under construction and rip out and steal what they can as quick as they can. They’ll even risk their lives stealing from active power lines, and may be disappointed to learn they are less valuable aluminum. They may even steal telephone lines which may be what you are referring to. They might just cut whatever loose parts they can or break the plasterboard on walls to rip it out.

It’s also easy to extract the copper from insulation to get the bare metal which will grant higher prices, as compared to something like steel which may be a structural component (harder to steal, pardon the pun) or otherwise be coated in paints that make it harder to process. It has a higher melting point and is overall more abundant to mine and produce.

You’ve got to remember that for me to buy a 100m drum of cable where I live, with discounts, will cost me about $200. About a month ago, the prices a scrap dealer quoted me would net me about $40-50 if I were to immediately scrap it. If I were to spend hours stripping it, or buy a machine to do it for me, I might get up to about $100.

It’s only valuable to tradesmen who use enough to generate off cuts, or thieves who have no purchase cost.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Have you bought copper wire before? It isn’t all that cheap. A lot of what you think may be copper can actually be copper clad aluminum.

Copper isn’t particularly valuable, but it isn’t cheap either. The people stealing the copper aren’t looking to make a great deal of money. Mostly they’re looking to make enough for their next fix. The scrap yards likely know that the people are selling stolen copper and will pay them significantly less than the commodity price of copper–which is around $4/pound (a little less than $0.25 per troy ounce (gold is around $2000 per troy ounce, and silver is about $25 per troy ounce). The amount of copper required to get their fix isn’t all the great even considering the discount the scrapper is buying it at–you can easily fit it inside a shopping basket. Another reason it is popular to steal is that it is very easy to fence–melted copper is pretty much untraceable.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Have you bought copper wire before? It isn’t all that cheap. A lot of what you think may be copper can actually be copper clad aluminum.

Copper isn’t particularly valuable, but it isn’t cheap either. The people stealing the copper aren’t looking to make a great deal of money. Mostly they’re looking to make enough for their next fix. The scrap yards likely know that the people are selling stolen copper and will pay them significantly less than the commodity price of copper–which is around $4/pound (a little less than $0.25 per troy ounce (gold is around $2000 per troy ounce, and silver is about $25 per troy ounce). The amount of copper required to get their fix isn’t all the great even considering the discount the scrapper is buying it at–you can easily fit it inside a shopping basket. Another reason it is popular to steal is that it is very easy to fence–melted copper is pretty much untraceable.

Anonymous 0 Comments

Have you bought copper wire before? It isn’t all that cheap. A lot of what you think may be copper can actually be copper clad aluminum.

Copper isn’t particularly valuable, but it isn’t cheap either. The people stealing the copper aren’t looking to make a great deal of money. Mostly they’re looking to make enough for their next fix. The scrap yards likely know that the people are selling stolen copper and will pay them significantly less than the commodity price of copper–which is around $4/pound (a little less than $0.25 per troy ounce (gold is around $2000 per troy ounce, and silver is about $25 per troy ounce). The amount of copper required to get their fix isn’t all the great even considering the discount the scrapper is buying it at–you can easily fit it inside a shopping basket. Another reason it is popular to steal is that it is very easy to fence–melted copper is pretty much untraceable.

Anonymous 0 Comments

It’s super useful! Copper has a lot of great electrical and thermal properties that make it great for electronics and plumbing. It’s fairly durable. It’s also pretty easy to work with as far as metals go, so it’s cheaper to manufacture than the alternatives. This makes it a very appealing material to use.

So rather than throw it away a lot of places will pay for scrap copper and recast it into an ingot and either sell it or use it to make something themselves.