Local News

Scrap-metal recycling grows as economy shrinks

Posted July 10, 2008 8:00 p.m. EDT
Updated July 11, 2008 12:24 a.m. EDT

— 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."