Recycling business sees rebound in Hattiesburg

By Tim Doherty/Hattiesburg American

HATTIESBURG — Some came bearing crumpled cars, while others delivered used oil pans and sacks of tin cans.

That was the scene at the 22-acre site of Alter Metal Recycling as cars lined up to drop off goods in exchange for cash.

“Tin cans and stuff, when I get a few of them saved up, I’ll just bring them and get a few dollars out of them, just pay for a little gas,” said Robert McGill of Hattiesburg, who once a month brings a few, small mounds of empties to the yard.

McGill said, of late, there’s only been one drawback to turning his scrap into cash.

“Yup, yup, they’re good, but it’s gotten to where there’s so much business going on now, you’ve got to wait where it’s just about too long,” McGill said. “For the money, it’s a lot of time. For them, it’s good to be busy, I guess that’s right.”

David Shemper, regional marketing manager for Alter Metal, said the business has slowly rebounded since the recession hit.

“What we saw in 2008, never, never, in the scrap business had we seen such a decline in prices like we saw from September 2008 to say November 2008. In that two-month period, you went from some of the highest prices ever being transacted for scrap — ever — to nothing.

“You had certain scrapyards telling people, ‘We’re not buying. If you want to drop it off, you can drop it off, but we’re not buying it.’ We had no markets. All of a sudden, there was nobody to sell our scrap to.”

The scrap business is a fairly straight-forward trade. Individuals, businesses and other scrap dealers swap the worn-out, broken or undesired for money.

In turn, the scrap dealer dices, shreds, compresses, cleans and packages those items, selling them to be reused as raw materials to create new products.

“We literally have customers all over the world. An overwhelming volume of our material these days goes to China, to India, to Belgium, to Germany, to Vietnam. We sell scrap all over the world out of this location,” Shemper said.

He said now they customize the packages meeting the specifications requested for size, type and packaging of the material.

Their suppliers range from semi-trailer-sized loads from across the country to cardboard boxes full of items brought in from the neighborhood.

“It’s a little extra change, that’s about it, once a month,” Carlos Gilbert of Hattiesburg said. “Pick up tin, out on the street.”

And lately, with commodity prices up, that tin is as valuable as it’s been in some time.

“Steel prices,” Shemper said. “Scrap iron prices are as high as they’ve been in a while. Copper prices, over $4 a pound. Those are the main two that everybody’s talking about, scrap iron and copper. But as a general rule, all commodities right now are fairly hot.”

And so, business is good, or at least, better.

The yard, which boasted about 60 employees in late 2007, is back up to about 40.

And the lines are growing longer.

“The price of it has gone up a lot,” said Henry Hudson, a tree farmer out of Sumrall who brought a pickup loaded with scrap iron cleared from his property. “Copper is worth a lot and insulated wire is worth $1.35 a pound. That’s extension cords and stuff and scrap pieces of wire. Iron prices are up for short iron, so it’s a good time to sell it.

“It serves two purposes for me: Make a little pocket money and get the place cleaned up, make it look a little neater.”