Garbage always seems to end up in piles. Sprawling, chunky, leggy heaps cropping up wherever we decide to let garbage rest. This fact becomes an advantage when you are interested in finding garbage.
Coming down a hill on my bicycle, I spotted a beautiful pile of rubbish. I knew this pile was serious because it rose up higher than the roofs of nearby buildings. But this gigantic pile of what turned out to be scrap metal was not as impressive as the creature that made it.
This particular pile of refuse was owned by a company called Davis Trading and Supply LTD. Davis wasn’t there, but a guy named Brad who is the location’s general manager took some time to tell me about their pile.
Davis Trading actually pays other people for their piles of metal so Davis can make a bigger pile. In the half hour that I was there, twenty-some vehicles loaded with metal arrived and were processed. Processing occurs Out Back where a guy in a big excavator equipped with a grapple claw sorts the piles of metal in the yard, tossing stoves and refrigerators into one pile, empty steel drums into another, and piping and aluminum into yet another pile.
Junk haulers, plumbers, electricians, and people in the construction trade pull up with loads of copper, steel, iron, or aluminum (and other metals as well) in vans, trucks, trailers, shipping containers, and dumptrucks. They get weighed before they go around back and are unloaded near the piles of scrap metal. After unloading they weigh again and are paid depending on the value of the metal they dropped off.
I was startled to see how much money was being paid out by Davis Trading. Most customers were walking away with some serious change as payment for adding their loads of scrap metal to the Davis pile.
Davis Trading receives mostly commercial and industrial items, although occasionally they get the odd customer who is cleaning out their garage. While I was speaking with Brad, one optimistic man came in to try and sell off a few small pieces of copper: it was worth a little less than two dollars.
Brad told me that places like Davis Trading are pretty much the last stop for scrap metal in North America. At scrap yards like this, metals are sorted, baled, shredded, or packed for shipping to countries that don’t have to pay people as much money to reprocess the metal into something that is usable. Brad said that most of the metal they see ends up in Asia.
The scrap metal industry in North America has the technology and even some of the infrastructure to deal with reprocessing metals, but Brad told me the determining factor is always labor. Labor costs so much less in the other countries that countries like Canada and the United States cannot compete.