Scrappers – important and unappreciated

Who are scrappers?

Scrappers are people who collect discarded items from the waste stream and redirect them to an appropriate recycling stream.  Scrappers collect material from many sources with some specializing in certain methods.  “Street scrappers” collect items from roadside waste pickups and dumpsters.  Other scrappers offer their services to companies of various sizes collecting electronic waste (e-waste) and other recyclable materials.  Still other scrappers bid on auctions, buying decommissioned equipment, excess inventory or abandon storage.

Scrapping can be a full or part time activity.  Many scrappers are small businesses, paying taxes and filing with the IRS.  For some it’s a part-time or side gig.  Others just do it as a hobby.  

Why do we need them?

Without scrappers our landfills would be a lot – and I mean A LOT – fuller.  Scrapping is needed because in most developed countries the curb-side waste collection and recycling programs do not properly address the materials scrappers redistribute.  

Curb-side waste collection simply collects all your trash and moves it to a place of long-term storage – usually a landfill.  No effort is made to separate materials such as steel and aluminum that can be recycled.  It is simply not efficient.

Curbside recycling programs usually only collect a small subset of recyclable materials such as paper, glass containers and aluminum cans.

While some cities, towns and local governments operate transfer stations, they may be inconveniently located or charge for dropping off materials.

So, most people simply put things in the trash that could be recycled.  Without scrappers – this would add up fast.     

Hard work/Dirty job

Scrapping is hard work and can be a dirty job.  Street scrappers may spend hours a day driving around collecting material only to then unload that material at a yard.  While some scrap is small and less than a few pounds, it is not uncommon to load and unload large heavy items such as clothes washers and dryers.  Even if they’re not pulling scrap from a dumpster, and some do, have you ever looked inside your old computer or ceiling fan?  There can be years of dust in there.  I’m sure you can imagine the condition of some old microwaves and stoves.  

Doesn't pay much

Scrapping is not a get rich, much less, get rich quick opportunity.  Prices for scrap material, what a scrap yard will pay scrappers, is very dependent on commodity prices for steel, copper, aluminum, etc.  Scrappers do not usually have the physical space to stockpile inventory, forcing them to take what the market will bear.  In 2019, shred steal, the mainstay of most street scrappers cash flow, plummeted.  In some cases, $0.035 per pound.  At three and half cents a pound the average pick-up truck load paid between $10 and $25.  

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