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Scrap-metal recycling grows as economy shrinks

Posted July 10, 2008
Updated July 11, 2008

— Individual sellers of scrap metal say the rising costs of gas and other commodities have prompted them to look at old toys and appliances – even toasters – as a potential source of income.

"Five years ago, people would throw away their bicycle in the trash," Greg Brown, owner of Raleigh Metal Recycling, said. "Today, you could bring your bicycle here, and we'll give you cash for it. We literally take pots and pans, old fans, a toaster oven."

Individual sellers seem increasingly motivated by tough economic times, Brown said. 

"I watch them at our ATM when it spits out, and they're saying, 'This is going to give me gas for the week,'" he said.

Glenwood Pair said he sold some spare parts for gas and funds for the effort to "try to make it to the next day."

Michael Brooks said selling scrap metal for money gives him an extra cushion in tough times.

"It's just another income," said Brooks, who sold old fencing. "That second income, the way the economy is now, you've got have more than one rabbit in the hat."

The increased business at Raleigh Metal Recycling is likely a symptom of a souring economy, said Mike Walden, an economist with North Carolina State University.

"Many people are strapped for money, and they're looking at things they can sell," Walden said.

For many workers, increases to cost-of-living have outpace the growth of their salaries, the economist said.

"In the first quarter in N.C., average incomes went up 3 percent. Yet inflation is running at 4 percent, so average people are falling behind," Walden said.

The scrap-metal recycling industry is poised to reap the benefits of people searching for extra income. The $65-billion, nationwide industry employees 50,000 people and recycles 150 million tons of scrap materials annually, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.

The cost of metals, such as copper and aluminum, has risen, but demand for recycled materials is still strong, because it costs more to drill, mine and process them, Brown said. ISRI says that using recycled materials, instead of virgin ones, also has significant energy savings: at least 74 percent for iron, steel, plastic, copper and aluminum.

Raleigh Metal Recycling has added new employees, expanded its hours and added new lines, Brown said.

Larry Gore found himself in those lines, trading in three batteries.

"This is 15 bucks, $5 a battery," he said. "Every dollar counts, that's right. Every penny helps."


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  • scientistjo Jul 11, 2008

    "You can get $100 for an American Converter (i.e. American Cars) or $35 for a foreign.
    I suggest the criminals start with the vehicles that the Illegal Aliens Drive." -TheAdiral

    Why, do they drive American cars?

  • Student Nurse Jul 11, 2008

    They are chinese made skillets. I refuse to cook on them because of all the lead items being found.

  • TheAdmiral Jul 11, 2008

    "3 cast iron skillets come to mind among other things."

    I will take them for a buck a piece!

  • TheAdmiral Jul 11, 2008

    "Thefts of catalytic converters"

    You can get $100 for an American Converter (i.e. American Cars) or $35 for a foreign.

    I suggest the criminals start with the vehicles that the Illegal Aliens Drive.

  • Student Nurse Jul 11, 2008

    How much do you get? If I cleaned out my garage, I would have several small household items...3 cast iron skillets come to mind among other things. Would it be worth the 32 mile round trip fuel cost?

  • whatelseisnew Jul 11, 2008

    Bendal1 there is no oil there that is why they are not drilling in those areas.

  • blahblahblah Jul 11, 2008

    Where is the metal recycling place located?

  • orange dude Jul 11, 2008

    You may want to take the motor out of your appliances, but they can go to most recyclers as is. Crush your cans flat, obviously, more will fit into a trash bag that way. Also, the guy I go to gives you a couple of bucks for old batteries. I don't know if this will post if I share who I go to, so just look up your nearest recycler in the phone book.

  • ezLikeSundayMorning Jul 11, 2008

    Am I right in figuring that is about 2 cents/can?

    Do you have to strip the metal out of old appliances yourself? I took a range and dishwasher to the landfill a few months ago. Doh!

  • trunkmonkee1971 Jul 11, 2008

    Congress has a 9% approval rating, why would they want to bring an energy bill to the floor?