2012-06-07 / Local & State

As Metal Prices Rise, More People Trading In Items

By Marion Callahan

THE MORNING CALL

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) – Ed Komnath rolled his truck into E. Schneider & Sons Inc. in Allentown to see what cash prize awaited him for a bag of soda cans, an aluminum door frame and old Honda car parts that his son-in-law couldn't sell at a yard sale.

“It adds up,” said Komnath of Macungie, watching as his metals were loaded on a large scale mounted to the floor.

He wasn't expecting enough to spring for a vacation, he said, but “I can take my grandson to Burger King.”

Komnath, who walked away with $13.40 in cash, summed up his experience as “a good deal.”

Business is booming at scrap yards, where recycling and metal dealers are seeing a growing number of homeowners and non-traditional clients making the extra trip to cash in their used bikes, old tools and discarded soda cans. The scrap yards also have their share of regular customers, including contractors, who consider what they expect to earn in scraps when they bid for a job, and peddlers, who drive around retrieving metal discards.

At Schneider's, an old bike can bring in $3. Someone can pocket $12 for an aluminum wheel. Copper and steel parts inside an old air conditioner could yield close to $20. An old cast-iron bathtub nets $40. And an old stainless steel sink? Another $12.

Owner John Schneider said the recession lured all types of scrappers to his yard, but the rising price for scrap could be a signal that the economy may be rebounding .

Peter Grandich, a Freehold, N.J., metals analyst, said the international demand in steel and metals has fueled price increases, despite the beleaguered economy. Metal prices, he said, are up anywhere from 100 percent to 500 percent from where they were a decade ago.

Heino Koberg, owner of Lehigh Valley Clean Out Junk in South Whitehall Township, said two years ago he was hired to clean out an old industrial building and haul away machinery that made candy molds.

The spike in prices, though, has also led to a crime surge. Across the Lehigh Valley, scrap metal criminals have stolen everything from manhole covers to metal shelving from area retail stores.

South Whitehall police Sgt. Michael Sorrentino said he can't remember a time when the department experienced so many metal thefts. Grandview Cemetery in South Whitehall has become the target of copper thieves who have swiped costly materials during at least five incidents this year, police said. In February, thieves stole 15 copper downspouts from the roof of a mausoleum.

Aware that crimes are on the rise, buyers at Schneider & Sons request identification, addresses and contact numbers from all scrappers. Surveillance cameras record scrap coming in and out of the Sumner Avenue business.

Louis Aviles, awaiting proceeds from scrap one day, had no problem turning over his driver's license, though he appeared surprised by the request. It was his first visit to a scrap yard.

After helping to renovate his neighborhood church, Aviles had a feeling the copper parts left over from the job could be worth money, though it was the idea of recycling that prompted him to make his first trip to Schneider & Sons.

He expected between $5 and $20. He got $106.

McGowan said she welcomes the new faces that come from all walks of life.

Mike Carr, owner of 611 Recycling in Plumstead Township, said soaring prices are swaying people to view their belongings through a different lens.

Picking up a heavy brass pot, Carr said, “Before, this might have been worth more as a decorative item. Now it's worth more as scrap.”

The owner of the brass pot, he said, walked out with $30. Still, the majority of the materials coming through his garage are broken or discarded items, such as batteries, appliances, VCRs and computers.

With metal prices up, Carr said he's seeing more full-time scrappers and more traditional homeowners coming directly to him, rather than handing it off to contractors to haul off.

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