How trade restrictions could impact $284M Denver scrap recycling industry

Posted at 9:20 PM, Apr 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-20 23:20:48-04

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. -- If it's broken or outdated, it could end up at Rocky Mountain Recycling in Commerce City. Brian Henesey's workers sift through tons of scrap metals like steel and aluminum, because your junk is someone else's treasure.

"You could get high beams from a bridge. We've had hip joints from a crematorium," said Henesey.

"This bale right here is probably about 30,000 cans." 

Old bikes, mattress springs, rims and even soda cans have an afterlife.

Henesey also sits on the board for the local Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.

In Denver alone, experts said recycling scrap metals has a $284 million economic impact and creates more than 6,000 jobs in Colorado.

Henesey told Denver 7 over a day or two, he can receive up to 1 million pounds of steel, for example.

"New product. It goes into our appliances. It goes into our automobiles."

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries cites studies that show the U.S. exports 30% of recycled scrap metal to 160 other countries. Construction firms still import lots of steel because, simply, it's cheaper.

Other data, from ISRI:

In 2015, the U.S. scrap industry processed (exports plus domestic recycled):

• 5 million metric tons of aluminum

• 1.8 million metric tons of copper

• 622,000 metric tons of nickel/stainless steel

The United States exported nearly $11 billion worth of nonferrous scrap to 85 countries in 2014, including China, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Belgium, India and Germany.

The U.S. provides more than 20 percent of the world supply of recovered copper.

"Market dictates where it's gonna [sic] flow. Free and fair trade," said Hennesey.

That flow has President Trump worried it is killing steel worker jobs. It was a favorite topic of his on the campaign trail, blaming other nations, especially China, for flooding the U.S. with cheap foreign steel. Now, it's even more widespread.

"This has nothing to do with China. It has to do with worldwide. What's happening, the dumping problem. It's a worldwide problem," said President Trump on Thursday.

While Trump's new probe could change where these metals go and maybe the jobs that come with, Hennesey said his job is way more important the price tag out front.

"It reduces landfills. In addition to landfills, it also stops us from having to mine lime and other items."

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