Scooping up scrap garners a little cash on the side

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Larry Horowitz has found a way to get a little exercise, help the environment and earn some pocket cash.

Now that he has retired from his wholesale business in the Strip District, Mr. Horowitz, 65, can be found on Tuesday mornings cruising Squirrel Hill and Wednesdays in Point Breeze poking through people's garbage for metal that he sells to scrap dealers.

"You can't make much money," he said. A good day will leave $40 in his pocket after he fills his car with cookie tins, discarded pieces of pipe, curtain rods and some metal shoe trees.

Scrapping is a win/win/win. It helps the environment by keeping metal out of landfills, it cuts down on the city's waste cost and it supplements the scrappers' income.

Scrap yard owners describe a highly competitive field as scrappers go from neighborhood to neighborhood trying to be the first to collect any metal that is put out.

Bill Klimovich, Pittsburgh's assistant director of public works and environmental services, said the city is happy that there are scrappers because the city does not have a program to sell metals, other than the aluminum cans that are included in recycling.

"If our crews were to pick up a washer or dryer, we're taking that to a landfill and paying to get rid of it," he said.

Those cans, by the way, are off limits.

Mr. Klimovich said the city makes money off of recycling and has even had to tell some scrappers to keep their hands off the cans. He said neighbors and crew foremen have seen scrappers going through the bags and told them to stop.

The city is paid between $25 and $30 a ton for recycling, depending on market fluctuations, for 15,000 tons of recycling a year.

Most scrappers drive around in pickup trucks on bulk collection days, grabbing barbecues, old bicycles, the skeletons of lawn furniture and any other metal items tucked in the piles of trash by the side of the road. Many will also take washing machines, dryers and other appliances. It's a legal means of getting cash for raw materials, unlike more nefarious methods, such as the teams of men in New York City who were stealing whole metal utility poles when prices were higher for scrap.

Refrigerators and humidifiers should be taken somewhere where the Freon can be properly removed so that it does not damage the ozone layer. Duquesne Light and FirstEnergy both have refrigerator recycling programs that will pay customers for their old refrigerators.

Fred Landay, the owner of Appliance Warehouse, which recycles and sells used appliances, said refrigerators and humidifiers take special handling to deal with the Freon and the oil. Refrigerators also contain insulation, which he said makes a real mess when they go through the crusher so he doesn't do that anymore.

Appliance Warehouse, which already gets about 15,000 appliances a month from retailers that are taking in old appliances, is planning in the next month to open up a scrap yard at its South Side location.

"I always wanted to have a scrap yard," Mr. Landay said.

Recycling scrap metal involves more than just picking up junk. The scrap yards gather the scrap and crush it into bails that are then sold to processors. The processors shred the steel to be used in steel mills and pull out aluminum for aluminum producers.

Scrap steel is an important ingredient of new steel. Depending on the process, the steel produced in mills consists of 25 to 100 percent recycled steel.

Steven Joshowitz, the president of Josh Steel, a scrap yard in Braddock, said the going rate for scrap metal now is about $10.50 for 100 pounds, about half of what it was five years ago but double that in 2009 when the bottom fell out of the market.

But weather more than price determines if the scrappers are going to be around. "When the weather is bad, people aren't throwing away as much stuff," Mr. Joshowitz said.

He said a wide range of people collect scrap metals for resale.

"For some people, scrap is just what they do," he said. "We also see guys who have a seasonal type of job, like work on a road crew." When those people are out of work or working fewer hours because full-time assignments are in short supply, they turn to collecting and selling scrap metal.

It has always been a competitive business. The early morning scrappers often find that someone has been through a neighborhood during the night picking out the biggest pieces of metal.

Mr. Horowitz, who only goes out two days a week, said he can always tell when he has been beaten by someone else because there is no metal along the street.

That's when he drives on, looking for another road with trash piles that have not already been picked over.

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Ann Belser: or 412-263-1699.


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