Metal at urban margins: Regulating scrap metal collecting in Winnipeg, Canada


  • Kevin Walby University of Winnipeg
  • Steven Kohm University of Winnipeg


metal collecting, law, regulation, urban, community, scrounging


Scrap metal theft and collection has captured the attention of criminology and criminal justice scholars. Mainstream criminological research on scrap metal theft is focused on opportunity theory, arguing that theft can be reduced through stringent regulation of buying and selling by salvage yards. Alternatively, cultural criminology has examined the issue in ethnographic research exploring dumpster diving and scrounging. Additional conceptual tools are needed to analyze regulation of urban metal collecting, which leads us outside of criminology. The present study draws from urban studies and socio-legal studies to conduct a case study of the policing and regulation of scrap metal theft in Winnipeg, Canada. Using multiple methods including interviews, observations, analysis of news media and municipal regulations, we examine how scrap metal collection and processing is regulated in the city. We found four layers of regulation and law: federal, provincial, municipal laws, and what we refer to as the law of the lane. Our analysis contributes to literature on urban scrap and metal collecting and well as socio-legal literature on urban forms of regulation.