CASSELBERRY — There are plenty of mainstays to the U.S. economy, but the continued contributions being made by the scrap metal recycling industry isn’t always the first one people think of. So why do we take the scrap recycling industry for granted?
Having grown tremendously since the 1980s, the scrap industry’s economic impact was valued at $116 billion U.S. dollars in 2017 — up from $90 billion in 2012 and $54 billion in 2009. This is a fast-growing industry creating thousands of new jobs, supporting more than 534,000 workers in the U.S. alone today, while exporting nearly $30 billion in scrap commodities to 160 countries.
The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries reported in April that scrap recycling firms pay an average of $76,515 in wages and benefits, generate more than $13.2 billion in federal, state, and local tax revenue each year, and provides for 0.63 percent of the national’s total economic activity.
Those are impressive numbers. At the same time, though, not a lot is known about the recycling of scrap metal, or even what kind of scrap can be found in people’s homes or offices that are ideal for recycled once they’ve reached the end of their life cycle.
Far too many Americans continues to simply discard items made from metal that they no longer want, from broken down cars to old lawn chairs to kitchen appliances, rather than bringing them to a recycling firm like GLE Scrap Metal so they can be turned into new products and sold to manufacturers.
And this is not even a new industry. The recycling of scrap has been around for nearly a century.
What Does Scrap Metal Recycling Refer To
Metals have been used for thousands of years. During the Middle Ages, it’s been documented that both Swedish and German smelters were using ore containing tungsten, which comes from the Swedish phrase “tung sten” for “heavy stone.”
Steel artifacts date back to at least 1400 BCE, so we know steel has been made for at least three thousand years. Steel is an alloy, made of two or more elements, and it was discovered that steel could be created through temperatures that exceed 1370 degrees Celsius.
Today, new steel is often made from a process called oxygen steelmaking. Molten iron is poured into a container known as a ladle, then transferred to a furnace to be mixed with scrap steel material.
Some of the earliest American recycling efforts date back to the colonial days. Back then, a shortage of materials prompted the need for recycling. Back then, metal was a scarce commodity, and it’s known that peddlers frequently traveled the countryside selling manufactured goods, while also purchasing unwanted materials from the households they visited, making it available to be recycled.
The field continued to grow. By 1919 in Chicago alone, there were an estimated 1,800 individual scrap-material dealers, since these materials were in increasingly high demand.
The Great Depression created an even greater need for recycling, since it was much cheaper to reuse than to buy new. During World War II, the government began encouraging all Americans to collect scrap metal as the nation beefed up production of weapons used in the war. Anything made from metal, including scrap, got collected so it could be melted down and re-forged.
By the 1960s and 1970s, the industry was moving in a different direction. Recyclers were now taking in scrap metal not because there was a shortage of these materials, but the opposite: there were massive amounts of waste being produced during the second half of the 20th century, and recycling helped keep scrap out of landfills, where the toxic chemicals within metals like mercury and lead could pose environmental risks.
Since then, and especially from the 1980s on, scrap recycling has become a very large and continuously growing industry, processing millions of tons of scrap iron, steel, copper, aluminum, lead, zinc and stainless steel on a yearly basis.
How Does Scrap Recycling Help our Environment?
We also know that there are strong environmental benefits to scrap recycling. It’s far costlier – and uses up far more natural resources – to go mining for virgin ore that can be made into metals, and the Earth has a finite supply of ore to begin with.
By recycling scrap instead, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notes, it amounts to a:
• 75 percent savings in energy.
• 90 percent savings in the use of raw materials.
• 86 percent reduction in air pollution.
• 40 percent reduction in water use.
• 76 percent reduction in water pollution.
There are also a lot of energy savings from using scrap, including:
• Aluminum (95 percent energy savings)
• Copper (85 percent energy)
• Lead (65 percent energy)
• Zinc (60 percent energy)
Today, it’s more common to talk about the significant environmental benefits of recycling than the need for make up for a major shortage of materials.
Still, because there is not enough virgin ore to provide a continues supply of new metals, the scrap recycling industry helps manufacturers hold down costs when producing new products. That’s another major economic boost.
What Challenges Confront the Industry Today?
The biggest challenge today is that recycling rates for scrap metal stubbornly remain at about 30 percent, indicating the need to educate consumers and businesses about taking any scrap they have and no longer want to a firm like GLE Scrap Metal.
In 2004, the company opted to diversify into the ferrous and nonferrous recycling industry, and started GLE Scrap Metal, a full-service, all-in-one recycling company that now recycles more than 250 million pounds of scrap metal each year.
They have a strong environmental commitment, performing environmentally-friendly processing and recycling of all base and precious metals. The GLE team will purchase, process, and re-integrate all recyclable base metals to utilize natural resources and help conserve energy.
GLE has multiple offices in Florida, including:
• Casselberry, 295 Lyman Road, Casselberry FL 32707 (407-834-5928), open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and Saturday from 8 a.m./ to noon;
• Holly Hill, 407 Flomich St., Holly Hill FL 32117 (386-673-1281), open from Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.;
• Opa-locka, 2382 NW 147th St., Opa-locka FL 33054 (305-685-1928), open
Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Great Lakes Electronics has also continued to grow, and now accepts all forms of e-waste and handles all electronics recycling. Great Lakes Electronics has years of experience performing environmentally friendly recycling of electronic products, which are disassembled into component parts. The ones that still have value can be sold for reuse, while other parts are used for metals recovery, and everything is recycled.
There remains need a continued need for individuals and businesses to help increase our nation’s scrap recycling and electronics recycling rates, which help both our economy and our environment.