Monday, November 11, 2013

Are You Throwing Away Money?

A lot of people liked the historical pictures of Central Avenue! I've had a couple of offers of more pictures of both Central Avenue and Minnesota Avenue, so I'll start putting together another "then and now" post. Stay tuned.  :-)

Today, we're going to head south in the District to Armourdale. Last week I had the pleasure of visiting one of the most fascinating businesses in the district, and I'd like to share what I saw / learned.

This is how AMR's most visible building looks from 7th Street.

I don't know about everyone else, but when I hear "metal recycling" I typically only think about the aluminum cans and tin cans that we put in our green recycling containers every Wednesday.

As I learned last week, there is lots and lots more metal that can be recycled...and we can get paid if we put in the effort to recycle it! Huge thanks to Raynard Brown and Brian Jacobs for giving me a tour and educating me about the operation of Advantage Metals Recycling (AMR).

AMR is located at 1015 S. Packard (just east of 7th Street Trafficway and just north of the Kansas River) in the southern part of Armourdale.

The red lines outline Advantage Metals Recycling.
You can see the Kansas River at the bottom of the picture.

This particular location first opened in 1954 and it became AMR in 2008. The company employs 45 people to operate the 15 acre Armourdale site. It's one of 16 different AMR locations in Kansas and Missouri.

Now here's the part that blew my mind… this one location recycles close to 350 million pounds of metal every year!

About 60% of that total comes from businesses. The other 40% comes from people like you and me.

There's lots of aluminum that can be recycled besides soda cans.
Among other things, this bin had the rollers from an old garage door,
the chassis from an electronic device and a discarded TV antenna.
(Click any picture to get a larger look.)

AMR collects both ferrous metals (containing iron) and nonferrous metals (not containing iron) from individuals and businesses in about a 150 mile radius around Kansas City. They sort and process everything they receive, and ship the chopped, shredded, pressed and/or bundled results of their efforts to manufacturing plants within about a 500 mile radius of Kansas City.

Those plants then melt the recycled metal from AMR and reuse it to create new metal products.

For example, back on October 9, demolition crews demolished the steel superstructure of the old Amelia Earhart bridge in Atchison, Kansas. Guess where it all ended up? That's right… Advantage Metals Recycling. The picture below shows pieces of the bridge girders (green in color) waiting to be chopped up and loaded onto train cars.

A stack of metal including girders from the Amelia Earhart bridge
wait to be chopped, shipped and used again.

Here's a quick list of the metal that the company accepts:
  • Steel/iron
  • Cast iron
  • Stainless steel
  • Aluminum
  • Copper
  • Brass
  • Lead
  • Zinc
  • Assorted alloys
All sorts of manufacturers and contractors (like General Motors in Fairfax and Kawasaki in Maryville, Missouri) do their part to keep the environment clean by shipping all of their excess, defective or discarded metal to AMR for recycling.

It doesn't look like much, but this metal "chopper"
is the most impressive equipment in the plant.
Metal gets loaded into the little building by the crane at right.
A giant piston (red arrow) drives two sets of giant blades
that chop the metal up small enough it can be loaded into train cars.

Another crane with a big claw (think "Toy Story")
picks up chunks of chopped metal and loads them in a train car for shipping.

As I walked around the yard, it occurred to me that this isn't anything like the junkyard on the old TV show "Sanford and Son". Although they effectively deal in "junk", AMR is a sophisticated, high-quality, precision operation.

And it's no small challenge to build a recycling plant like this one. For example, each one of the big yellow cranes (seen in several different pictures here) costs over $600,000. The giant "metal chopping" machine contains four blades that cost about $5,000 each. The blades last about a month before they need to be replaced! And those are only two examples of the high tech equipment scattered throughout the site.

This impressive machine uses giant rams to squish
soft metals and wire into bales that are shipped off for reuse.

Two examples of the output from the baler...
aluminum cans (lower left) and random wires (upper right).

Who knew?? This big tangled, white and green mess contains
hundreds of strings of broken Christmas lights that are being recycled.

Boxes of metal pieces wait to be squished and baled for shipping.
The variety of objects that have been recycled is surprising (lower left).

One thing that many people are concerned about is the recycling of stolen metals.

It's no secret that air conditioner coils and copper pipes (among other things) are very often targeted by thieves looking to make a quick buck. Although the amount of money that the thieves might receive from a recycling center is relatively small, they almost always leave behind a large mess and a big repair bill.

I was very impressed with the steps that AMR takes to discourage thieves from attempting to recycle stolen metal at their site.

They have a clear and comprehensive set of guidelines governing what kinds of metals can to be recycled and by whom. Additionally, they keep accurate records of every recycling transaction.

For example, every consumer transaction is recorded in multiple ways. Cameras and scanners located throughout the plant capture images of the person who is doing the recycling, his or her driver's license, his or her vehicle and the metal that is being recycled. Additionally, the person who is doing the recycling is not handed cash at the checkout counter. Instead, they are given a card that can be inserted into an ATM located outside the building.

A sign in the consumer recycling area details the restrictions
on what can be recycled and by whom.

Mr. Brown said that AMR has made a tremendous investment in video and computer technology to support the anti-theft efforts. The company stores terabytes (lots and lots) of data each year on their computer servers. He said that AMR provides information to local police departments five or six times a month to help in the investigation and/or prosecution of theft cases.

Additionally, AMR has been an active participant in helping all KC area governments create and update ordinances that regulate the recycling process and make it harder for thieves to profit.

All those gray strips at the bottom of this pile are
lawn mower blades that didn't make the cut (so to speak)
and are being recycled.

The gigantic pile of metal shavings behind the blue container
is what's left after the Kawasaki plant in Maryville, Missouri
mills aluminum blocks to make motorcycle engines.

Although it looks like a giant pile of red hair, this huge tangle
is composed of the steel cords that go into "steel-belted" tires.
It's brown instead of silver because the cords have oxidized from sitting outside.

An AMR employee (right foreground) waits for a crane
to come unload a customer's trailer (left foreground).
The size of the pile behind the employee gives you
a sense of the volume of metal processed by AMR.

So... the next time you're about to throw some metal in the trashcan, consider taking it to Advantage Metals Recycling. They are open Monday - Friday from 8:00am to 4:30pm and on Saturday from 8:00am to noon.

Have a great week!
~ Brian
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