Californians may be surprised to learn that more than 1.5 million old vehicles, millions of old household appliances and tons of other metal items are purchased every year by scrap-metal recyclers and converted into raw materials that can be used to make new cars, appliances and thousands of other metal-containing objects.
These metal-recycling facilities safely and efficiently process this vast stream of material by shredding it into fist-sized chunks, and then sorting in into different grades of metal that are sold to steel mills, foundries, smelters and other end users. In this way, millions of pounds of metal are diverted from our streets, alleys and neighborhoods and put to productive re-use.
Like all heavy industry, metal recyclers understand their operations can have an effect on the surrounding community and the environment. For this reason, and in order to ensure they are operating safely and in a manner that is protective of human health and the environment, metal recycling companies devote enormous resources to complying with myriad laws and regulations, often going beyond these requirements. The metal-recycling industry is extensively regulated by numerous federal, state, regional and local authorities, including the U.S. EPA, regional water boards, regional air districts, local health and fire departments, and other public entities that manage and regulate land use.
While many metal shredding facilities are located at ports and other areas zoned for heavy industrial uses, others are located in mixed-use areas and work closely with local businesses, residents and other stakeholders to identify ways they can support the local community. These facilities are valued members of the communities in which they work, creating educational and vocational opportunities, supporting community programs, and helping to fund community activities.
These facilities also serve a vital environmental role in helping keep our communities free of the tons of scrap metal produced every day by the 40 million Californians, ensuring this material is put to beneficial use and does not end up abandoned in our neighborhoods, streets, back alleys and vacant lots. Under California law, recyclable scrap metal items cannot be disposed of in landfills so it is especially important that these valuable materials be collected and recycled – even if there were no prohibition on disposal of scrap metal in landfills, all the landfills in California combined could not accommodate the huge volume of scrap metal generated in the state.
In addition, over the past two decades, metal-recycling facilities have collectively invested hundreds of millions of dollars in state-of-the-art engineering upgrades, all designed to minimize their environmental footprint and to increase their ability to efficiently process this ever-increasing mass of scrap metal. In fact, California facilities are leading the way in setting new industry standards, promoting innovative technologies to increase levels of recovery and implementing rigorous operating practices. Examples of the equipment and operational upgrades that have been implemented across the state include:
- Active stormwater treatment systems
- Installation and expansion of concreted/paved operating areas
- Use of advanced heat sensors and fire-suppression systems
- Improved containment for in-process materials, including enclosure of process equipment, conveyors and other operations
- Water storage and recycling/reuse systems
- Rigorous facility maintenance and housekeeping plans (Best Management Practices)
- Systems for reducing fugitive and other emissions from metal-recycling operations
Californians over recent decades have enthusiastically embraced recycling because they know it helps reduce pollution, reduces the need for raw materials, preserves natural resources and reduces the energy used to mine and process native ores. If not for the metal-recycling industry, the tons and tons of scrap-metal material produced in the state would be abandoned or would begin to accumulate in huge quantities, increasing urban blight and creating eyesores. Without the infrastructure to support these recycling efforts, local governments would rapidly be overwhelmed.
In the past few years, California has seen the closure of hundreds of facilities that recycle post-consumer items (bottles, cans, paper, etc.). This is due in part to foreign countries’ decisions to no longer accept certain recyclables, but it is also the result of decisions made by our own state officials here in California.
One of the only remaining healthy parts of our recycling industry is scrap-metal recycling, which for more than 50 years has safely and efficiently processed millions of tons of scrap metal each year. Yet even this critical industry is under attack by regulators who feel the need to over-regulate or duplicate the efforts of other agencies that have overseen the operations of metal- recycling facilities for decades. These misguided efforts threaten the viability of this critical industry, to the detriment of all Californians.