Before you put those old appliances, car batteries and other unwanted metal items out for trash day, think about getting some cash for them instead.
Scrap metal recyclers are eager to pay for all sorts of discarded metal, which they sell to other users, including some buyers overseas. Growing industrial economies like China and India are hungry for the raw material generated from that stuff in your basement or garage.
How much you will pocket depends on the type of metals you bring in -- copper and brass, for instance, are more valuable per pound than aluminum -- as well as the weight, and which yard you visit. Scrap yards track changes in market prices for metals, so what they pay to customers fluctuates, sometimes daily.
Keep in mind that a scrap metal item's size does not necessarily correspond to its dollar value. For instance, a washer/dryer weighing 250 pounds might fetch only about $40, based on current pricing. A 200-pound refrigerator might get you $30, if the price per pound was 15 cents. Meanwhile, the top grade of copper might be worth as much as $3.50 per pound.
"Most people don't realize the value of scrap metal they have," said Rick Rothfuss, division manager for Gerdau's operation on Ohio Street.
Many customers will call a scrap yard ahead of time to see what they might get for a certain item, like a gas grill cover, said George Ostendorf, general manager of Metalico's yard in Buffalo. He picked up a stainless-steel sink and placed it on a scale. It weighed 11 pounds, meaning a customer would get about $6.60 for it.
Scrap yard operators say by selling to them, consumers can pick up extra dollars and ensure their recyclable items stay out of a landfill.
Retail customers have become a valuable source of business as industrial operations in the area have diminished, Ostendorf said.
On a recent morning, everything from minivans to pickup trucks to 18-wheelers drove through the Fillmore Avenue site, to drop off or pick up loads.
"This is the busiest time of year for us," Ostendorf said. When the weather warms up, people start cleaning up and hauling what they don't need to the scrap yards.
State law requires anyone selling at least $50 worth of scrap metal to a yard to show photo identification. The idea is to help police thwart criminals who steal metal and sell it.
Twin Village Recycling accepts all kinds of metal and iron, including old cars, at its yard in Depew. Nick Marcezin, the president, said one way to make the drop off and cashing out process go a little faster is to separate your items by metal type before you arrive.
Adam Weitsman, owner of Upstate Shredding, said people are often surprised how much money they end up taking home from a drop-off. His company acquired a location in Jamestown where customer visits have soared, which Weitsman attributes to paying higher prices and late hours. "We have to make it convenient for the homeowner to come in," he said.
What you think of as junk, he finds value in, like broken-down toasters and hot water heaters, or metal remnants of a household remodeling job. Upstate pays prices ranging from $3 to $3.80 per pound for copper, 50 to 80 cents per pound for aluminum and 12 cents to 20 cents per pound for steel.
The scrap yards have a link to the global economy. Some of the material received by Twin Village ends up going overseas. "There's a global demand for everything now," Marcezin said.
At Metalico, a forklift was loading insulated copper wire into a shipping container that would be trucked to a port in New Jersey and transported to China.
Jason Kohl drove up to Metalico's Buffalo scrap yard with a hodgepodge of items, including a door frame, an electric motor and lawn chairs.
They were a mix of his own items and some from neighbors. Kohl said he finds visiting the scrap yard an easy process. "There are people that will tell you what to do," he said.
The scrap yards have their share of regular customers, including the "peddlers" who drive around retrieving other residents' metal discards. "This is what some people do," Ostendorf said. "They know every bulk garbage route in the City of Buffalo."
In other words, if you leave unwanted metal items out on trash night, chances are someone else will pick them up and take them to a scrap yard.
But the peddlers aren't immune from gas prices near $4 per gallon. "The cost of driving around has gone up," Ostendorf said.
Rothfuss, of Gerdau, has this message for people considering unloading metal at a scrap yard: Keep it coming.
"We could always use more," he said.