The key to the shredding business is to get everything of
value you can out of the material. And while the sensor sorting
equipment needed to process that material can be costly, to
many it's well worth the investment.
For Adam Weitsman, president of Upstate Shredding LLC,
Owego, N.Y., sensor sorting of scrap metals isn't just about
subtle distinctions for finicky customers, but about being able
to market every last bit of metal that exits his new
"Part of the system is upgrading scrap, part is separating
it and part is capturing every last piece that we can. We
produce about 700 tons of waste a day. For 11 years we dumped
insulated wire into landfill. Today, insulated wire is $1.60 a
pound and we've been losing 14 tons a day being dumped in the
landfill. That's more than $42,000 a day," he said.
"I think the next technology is for plastics. Eventually
we'll use color-sorting equipment to separate the plastics by
color and then market the plastics. We use that now to separate
the reds and the yellows" among the metals-the brasses from
copper-"and X-ray is used to separate the sheet from the cast."
Separating out non-magnetic stainless steel requires yet
another sensor position.
The X-ray and color sensors are accompanied by a more
traditional technique at Upstate Shredding, which is sorting by
density. That's an approach some industry observers view as
"Our technology uses sand. It's a lot more environmentally
friendly. In the old days you used liquid," Weitsman said. His
nonferrous facility receives all materials from the shredder
output that don't cling to magnets.
But is the investment cost effective? Chinese buyers are
often willing to pay generously for mixed nonferrous zorba
shreds, destined for sorting by hand using inexpensive
"Zorba's not always priced high," Weitsman said. "Zorba is a
very, very volatile market. Sometimes the London Metal Exchange
(aluminum contract) goes down and zorba goes up. Sometimes vice
versa. Zorba takes on a life of its own."
He estimates that Upstate Shredding has invested about $20
million over the past two years to improve nonferrous sorting,
and he expects advancing technologies to require significant
upgrades every few years. At the core of the yard's recent
capital spending is a megashredder able to produce 450 tons per
hour, up from 225 tons previously, which is scheduled to begin
operating commercially in April.
Another executive at a nationwide scrapyard chain said that
98 percent of nonferrous shredder output now goes to Asia as
zorba (mixed nonferrous).
"When we first started making zorba, a large portion of our
zorba went domestic. Years ago, it would have gone to Huron
Valley (Steel Corp.), Audubon (Metals LLC) or MRS (Metal
Recycling Services Inc.)," longtime operators of heavy media
separation plants that ship their output for melting at
secondary smelters and other recycling plants, the executive
said. But Chinese buyers began serious buying of mixed
nonferrous around 2000.
"What Huron Valley and the other folks are doing now is
they're selling to the same people I am. The end-users are in
China or the Orient. They aren't in the U.S.," he said, noting
that the shrinking of U.S. metal industries has become
Huron Valley Steel created a high-tech nonferrous sorting
facility some years ago that was eventually shuttered. "Huron
Valley spent millions of dollars with this imaging program
outside Detroit. It was unbelievable. After it was all said and
done, it cost about a nickel a pound to sort, whereas the
Chinese are at about a quarter of a cent a pound," the
executive said. "So the technology was great, but it was
inefficient because it cost so much."
Mitchell Padnos, executive vice president of sales and
marketing at Louis Padnos Iron & Metal Co., a regional
chain based in Holland, Mich., said higher prices for stainless
steel scrap have prompted his company's techies to reconfigure
the sorting process. "Today I just learned about zurik. It's a
shredded stainless steel" that also contains mixed nonferrous,
even insulated copper wire. "We're doing it and I wasn't even
aware it had a name," he said.
It's disruptive to turn sensor-based conveyor lines off and
on in response to market cues. "You can simply blend things
back in if you have to," Padnos said. "That's part of our
upbringing as a foundry supplier. You always keep things
separate because you can always add it back in later. It's the
style that we operate under. It would be worse if you go back
and forth with your employees and say we're going to do it this
way one day and another way the next day."
The company's shredders are located in Holland and Grand
Rapids, Mich., and the material from both shredders goes
through sortation equipment at an intermediate location in