Shipping out scrap metal

Gathering scrap metal is a hot and dirty business, but Bobby Gibson believes it’s worth it. Armed with heavy equipment and a $260,000 metal crusher, Gibson has been gathering high-end metal to send off-Island.

Until now, much of Cayman’s scrap has found its way to the George Town landfill. Earlier this year, the Central Tenders Committee awarded Cardinal D. Ltd a contract to remove 6,000 tons of scrap metal from the dump. The company paid the Cayman Islands Government $50 per ton for the scrap and shipped it to China.

Previously, Matrix removed about 6,500 tons of scrap from the dump and paid the government $310,000. This scrap was also destined for China.

But doing it incrementally is another option, and local companies like National Recycling and Gibson’s Cayman Recycling are collecting it as it becomes available.

Two weeks ago, Gibson’s company sent out two 40,000 pound containers of scrap metal, and another container went out last week – this one containing among other things, 10,000 pounds of aluminium and 20,000 of batteries, along with mixed wire, copper, air conditioning units, motors and beer kegs.

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Gibson has plenty of experience. Cayman Recycling, which has been operating out of its new industrial park location for about a month, has been in operation since 2005, first as a subcontractor for MC restoration handling Ivan debris. More recently, the company also did work on the Matrix scrap metal contract, as well as the latest job headed up by Cardinal
D. Ltd. both of which collected and baled scrap metal piling up at the George Town landfill.

“On the last job, we actually ended up baling about 2,000 tons of the 6,000 that went out with our own baler,” says Gibson.

However, since that work ended Gibson and his team have been busy building up the company. Their most recent job was clearing out the old Cayman International School of all recyclable materials.

They will accept any metal and will buy copper, aluminium and batteries.

When they are filled, the containers are shipped off Island right away.

“We process it and it’s off Island in a week,” Gibson says, adding that the aim is to reduce pressure on Government not only to find a company to arrange shipping large amounts of scrap but also to improve safety over the hurricane season.

“It might be small containers but the stuff we are getting, we are getting out of here.”

The company accepts a variety of scrap, computers, batteries, motors, air conditioning units, aluminium, general metal, copper, wiring, cars, even old beer kegs. Gibson wants to move on to heavy equipment next, even things like derelict trailers, enough to fill a bargeload.

Big business

Globally, the scrap metal trade is booming.

Once seen as a Cinderella industry it is now a vital part of the recycling movement as it  keeps valuable materials in the supply chain while cutting back on the resources needed to mine and process raw materials. The scrap industry also recovers potentially hazardous
materials, such as mercury switches from older automobiles, lead from computer
monitors and harmful chemicals from electronics, keeping them out of landfills.

The US-based Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries has impressive figures to back up energy saved by collecting scrap. The energy saved using recycled materials over virgin ore is up to 92 per cent for aluminium, 90 per cent for copper, and 56 per cent for steel.

It also notes recycling one ton of steel conserves 2500 pounds of iron ore, 1400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone. Recycling one ton of aluminium conserves up to
8 tons of bauxite ore and 14 megawatt hours of electricity.

In 2008, the United States processed 85,000,000 metric tons of scrap iron and steel. It exported 18,865,413 metric tons of scrap iron and steel in 2008, a figure which rose to 20,011,795 metric tons in 2009. It also exported 1,981,644 metric tons of aluminium in 2008 and 1,657,606 metric tons in 2009.

Once scrap metal reaches a processing facility, it is generally is shredded in a massive industrial shredding machine and then sorted usually magnets.

Once sorted, the scrap metal is then melted in a blast furnace (the temperature depends on the metal) which also helps to burn off any impurities or other materials left over from the sorting stage of the process.

After the metal is liquefied, it can then be poured into moulds for use in new products.

Used just about everywhere

The amount of metal being recycled is improving. According to the US-based Steel Recovery Institute, in 2008, the steel industry recovered and recycled more than 14 million tons of shredded steel scrap from automobiles, a recycling rate of 95 percent.

It is not entirely down to a green conscience on the part of manufacturers as they have had incentives: the first is they realised that using recovered steel to manufacture new steel products saves money so it gives them a reason  promote steel recovery; secondly, as of 2000, a total of 18 states had enacted landfill bans for appliances, meaning that
they must be recycled.

Currently, according to figures from the US Environmental Protection Agency, all steel is made with a minimum of 25 per cent recycled  steel, while steel cans and containers, which comprise more than 90 percent of the food can market in the United States, contain up to 30 percent recycled steel.

Recycled steel is also going to car bodies, which usually contain at least a minimum of 25 percent recycled steel, while many internal automotive parts, such as engine blocks, are made using even higher percentages of recycled steel.

Up till now, China has been the biggest importer of scrap metal, importing around 14 million metric tons of scrap metal in 2009. This might be about to change though, as Business Week recently aired predictions that imports may fall to about 6 million metric tons because of higher international prices amid the global recovery.

As of the end of May, Baosteel, China’s second-biggest steelmaker, hadn’t imported any scrap for three to four months as international prices were $44 to $50 a ton higher than
domestic prices.

But while the scrap market may be changing, as the above figures show as long as steel holds its critical place in the industrialised world, there will be a demand for scrap metal.

Back here on Cayman, Gibson has a smaller but important scrap metal project that he hopes will work and it involves cans.

“Eventually, what I really want to do is get into collecting cans from businesses, restaurants and bars especially,” he says. “Hopefully we can get to the point where we can get out to one district per day.” He’s now looking for backers to support collection bins.

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