When a recycling executive comes before town planners with a
proposal to open a scrapyard, he or she can expect to be
questioned at length about its operations.
Scrapyard operators may be one of the few businesses that
will take over a brownfield industrial site and improve it.
They'll help clean up the mess that a manufacturer or chemical
producer left behind when it pulled up stakes and moved
overseas, where environmental rules often are easier to live
with or don't even exist.
Today's scrapyards are paved to prevent toxic substances
from draining through the ground and polluting the water table;
storm water retention basins are installed to prevent runoff
from contaminating a nearby stream or river; and the perimeter
of the yard is fenced and in many cases lined with trees and
other landscaping to hide society's discarded waste like old
vehicles and appliances.
Despite the good recyclers do, few people want to live next
door to a scrapyard or an auto dismantler. That's
understandable; these places are not as attractive as parks and
woodlands. But in some instances, the scrapyard was on the
fringe of a town or city when that site was undesirable
land-before urban sprawl brought housing developments and
For the most part, scrapyard operators try to stick to the
industrial regions of a city. After all, if they are on the
wholesale side of the business that's where many of their
customers are located. That's also where local zoning codes
allow them to operate, where they can employ workers and turn a
profit for their owners. In the process, they make much of
society's refuse reusable and recycled into new products. Most
scrap metal is not dumped in a landfill with materials that
have little or no recovery value.
It sounds like something most towns and cities would be
satisfied to have. Right? Wrong.
Today, when many of the scrap industry's entrepreneurs go
before town planners, one of the first questions they have to
answer is: Are you going to install a shredder? A "yes"
frequently draws an immediate "no" from local politicians.
Elected leaders depend on votes, and if there are enough
hostile residents in the meeting room they realize that they
could be out of office in the next election by approving the
scrapyard and a shredder.
Several years ago, one scrapyard in Minneapolis was barred
from installing a special type of shredder called a Kondirator.
The yard sued and collected millions of dollars from the city
for the grief it caused by continually putting up hurdles to
block construction. That was hardly a wise use of taxpayers'
money, was it?
The scrap industry has been progressive in terms of helping
other industries to make use of old metals. It has devised new
ways to process those metals and make them more valuable to
steel mills and foundries. In some instances, it may require no
more than a torch or a saw to cut the metal apart so
steelmakers and foundries can use it in their furnaces.
But this also is an industry where ingenuity has helped to
make scrap metal processing more economic and more productive.
The most obvious example of that ingenuity is a shredder. Some
people still refer to them as auto shredders, since that is
what they were initially developed to do-tear vehicles apart,
quickly and cheaply.
These days, though, the machine developed to take a car
apart also shreds old appliances, metals from demolition work
and whatever else can be fed into it. And the newer machines do
more than recapture the ferrous metals with magnets. Many are
equipped with high-tech systems that recover much of the
nonferrous metals as well.
The higher horsepower machines with wider beds can do the
work more efficiently and have been replacing smaller shredders
built 20 or 30 years ago. Unfortunately, they also are noisier
and spit out more dust, and have made not just the next-door
neighbors unhappy but also the folks a few blocks away. Water
sprayers are used to minimize that problem, but even such
preventative measures are not sufficient for some towns and
their residents. In one Texas town, where a $4-million machine
began operating less than a year ago, residents, politicians
and state environmental officials are up in arms about odors,
noise and dust.
So what's the next step? Indoor shredders? There already are
several machines that operate that way. Some processors,
realizing that they might be too close to residential areas,
opted either to build an enclosure for the shredder or install
it in an existing unoccupied factory large enough to
accommodate it. Is this the only answer to the complaints about
noise and dust? Probably not. Some also can be equipped with
hoods, for example.
One thing is certain: shredders are not going away even
though there are some who believe there are now too many on the
American landscape. Unfortunately, this is no longer just a
nimby (not-in-my-back-yard) response. It has broadened to
become a not-even-in-our-town outcry.