Why local metal recycling matters

This is a guest posts by Dave Bennink, owner of Re-Use Consulting. 

When I started deconstructing buildings in 1993, we certainly made efforts to recycle metals we found at our jobsites (as well as other recyclable materials). The money we made was used for important purposes like company gumball machines or a used jobsite radio to replace the one that was driven over by the forklift (with my Abba cassette tape in it).

Frankly, the $123.45 we collected didn’t compare to the $1,234.56 we received from flooring sales but we did it anyway.

Then China started buying up recycling commodities and the price went through the roof.  All of the sudden everyone was recycling. They recycled their cans and pie tins, their flashing and pipe, and unfortunately their neighborhood street signs and electrical substation equipment. We had never had so much interest in our jobsites (I mean after we had left for the day). We were even getting ripped off by grannies in electric wheelchairs towing 3 cubic yard metal recycling bins.

When demand increased the scrap prices, supplies steadily rose with it. Local recycling companies bought up scrap and laid out thousands to do so. When the demand for steel suddenly fell so did the price paid, and that amount actually dropped from $300/ton to $20/ton. Our local recyclers were stuck with metal that they couldn’t sell for as much as they bought it for and the lack of demand meant some had months worth of stock on hand. This series of events led to some metal recyclers cutting back and others closing up shop altogether. 

I had a chat with Dave Whitley of Nuprecon and found out that this has also affected contractors.  He said that they were giving building owners a break by lowering their bid price after factoring in the value of the metals found within the building.  When prices suddenly dropped, demolition companies were left ‘out in the cold’.  Whitley also informed me that other markets including even cardboard had experienced similar drops and that it was all caused by our current complex financial problems and demand issues overseas.

What can we do to help?  In many ways the Northwest is a national leader in green building and materials recycling.  When prices were high, we were all benefiting.  So when prices dropped, we shouldn’t allow anyone to be left out in the cold.  They say that for one of us to prosper, we all must prosper.  The recycled commodities market is beginning to recover, and I suggest we look to groups like the Northwest Chapter of the Construction Materials Recycling Association to tell us how we can help and how to avoid problems in the future. 

We have worked hard to make recycling a common practice here in the Northwest, and we can’t allow temporary drops in the price to change that.  So support your local reuse and recycling companies.  They are working everyday to create jobs, preserve natural resources, and save precious energy and they are counting on you to help.

Dave Bennink, Reuse Consulting