July 18, 2008

Precious Metals: Scrap Metal Values Helping to Clear County Trash

By Brad Hicks, The Times-Tribune, Corbin, Ky.

Jul. 18--As the money doled out by scrap metal businesses continue to rise, so do the reports of metal thefts.

However, scrap metal businesses paying more than ever for metals such as steel and aluminum has led to one big, positive change -- it's helping to clean up area counties.

Laurel County Solid Waste Coordinator Jim Ed McDaniel said his department's dealings with scrap metal have decreased significantly over the past year.

"It's had a very big impact on the county," he said. "It's been a big help to us."

The Laurel County Solid Waste Department offers a free appliance pick up in which residents can contact the department to take away broken down appliances, such as refrigerators, washers and dryers. McDaniel said requests for this service are down three-fold to around two per week.

"We've not been getting hardly any calls on that," he said.

McDaniel also said even when his department gets calls for appliance pick ups, by the time someone from Solid Waste arrives, often the appliance has already been picked up by someone hauling it to the scrap yard.

"You see truckloads of appliances headed over to Jasper's (Iron and Metal Co.) or Beckner's (Metal Recycling in Manchester)," McDaniel said.

The most common dumping areas in Laurel County are also looking a little neater thanks to the increased prices for scrap metal.

"People's even been going out to dump sites and clearing out the metal things they can get out of the dump sites," he said.

Whitley County Solid Waste Coordinator Danny Moses agreed that rising metal prices are clearing up much of the metal trash in the Tri-County.

"It's helping the county, as far as appliances and junk cars go," he said. "It's worth the effort of them taking them off."

However, he said the decrease in the amount of metal in dump sites and yards has led to the creation of another type of trash problem in dump sites and roadsides.

"The only downside to it is we're finding more tires on the side of the road," Moses said, citing that hubcaps are a precious commodity for people looking to gain a few dollars from a scrap yard.

Scrap metal businesses operate by paying people who drop off metal. The company then "bales" the metal together in a cube, which is sent off to the metal recycling plants that pay the scrap metal yards.

Alvin Feltner, scalehouse manager for Jasper Iron and Metal Co. in Laurel County, is obviously pleased by the recent boom in business and said the yard stays busy throughout the day with people dropping off items such as steel, aluminum cans, appliances and even broken down automobiles.

"It's pretty well doubled," Feltner said of his business. "Everybody and their kids are bringing stuff in."

Business isn't the only thing that's doubled. Just a few years ago, a ton of steel would fetch around $100 in area scrap metal yards. Now, a ton of steel is worth around $200, he said. Jasper Iron and Metal paid about $80 a ton for car body metal a couple of years ago, but that amount has doubled to about $160 a ton today.

The increase in both business and metal prices is a considerable turnaround from where scrap metal prices were just a decade ago. According to Jasper's employee Clifford Robinson, scrap metal businesses at that time were just treading water.

"It's just now making up for when it was bad," he said. "We just barely did pull through there."

The employees of Jasper's weren't completely sure what has led to such a marked increase in prices, but believe it may be because of a strong foreign market for metal.

"The story we got is China's buying up as much as they can get," said Jasper employee Stanley Hammons.

Both scrap metal workers and county officials agree, increased metal prices have helped clean up surrounding counties and, if prices remain steady or continue to rise, they foresee no slowdown in the business of metal.

"With scrap metal prices where they are, people are going to take all the metal they can find," Moses said, "and I don't blame them."


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