Posts Tagged ‘scrapping’

This blog was initially posted at Firedoglake here.

Deep diving a dumpster in Seattle. (photo: sea turtle via Flickr)

This morning’s Over Easy is an addition to the first diary I ever posted at Firedoglake, with an update on our dumpster diving experiences during the holiday season.

WikiHow has an excellent article on dumpster diving technique, to which I only add: 1. Never dive a medical or hospital dumpster 2. Never dive a compacting or off-limits (ie, gated/not in the public domain) dumpster 3. Dive in quadrants. This way, you never have to throw anything outside of the dumpster in order to get at the contents at the bottom. 4. Double your configuration, like  a cave diver, and carry two of everything (flashlights, wire cutters, magnets), except your wallet or money, which you should not take with you, into a dumpster.

Scrap metal recycle prices vary a bit from one junkyard to the next. The money scrap metals are copper, brass, aluminum, and non-magnetic stainless steel; junkyards want your scrap load sorted prior to reaching the scale. January is the best month of the year for scrap metal divers (scrappers) because Christmas is now a disposable holiday. Post-holiday Christmas lights are abundant, for example.

I am a baby boomer, born in 1960. Christmas was sacred and magical for as many years as I can remember until recently. We hand-made many of our own ornaments (remember felt, glue, sequins and styrofoam?) and saved everything from year to year. My mother kept our precious ornaments in the same box, each carefully wrapped in newspaper and saved. We saved our bubble lights and ice cycles.

That doesn’t happen anymore. Christmas is manufactured overseas, sold in the Big-box, and disposable, including all ornaments, lights, fake trees, nativity sets, and gifts, toys and clothing. We are losing our craftsmanship and precise arts as quickly as the Arctic melts.

People begin shopping on Black Friday, and get a tree up shortly thereafter. Late November/early December dumpsters may deliver insulated copper in the form of last year’s lights that have been inexplicably replaced by this year’s model, a few fake trees and even Christmas wrap, tape, bows, ribbon, lace and tags, still new in packages as though people are actually afraid to use anything from last year, God forbid.

December 26 through the New Year are generally cardboard box days, and although cardboard brings $60.00/ton at recycle, cardboard transport is problematic without a modified truck bed.  After the first of the year, the land of dumpsters is most interesting and productive. Lights. Rejected presents,  New With Tags. Fully decorated trees. Appliances, if new gifts replace the old, and even furniture, again if old must be discarded to make way for new.  We have not been to the mall in years. Every appliance we have was retrieved, new, boxed, and never used, from dumpsters. Same with all of our furniture and all of our clothing. If you live in an area where people don’t take down their trees until February, you can vicariously celebrate the holidays for two or three straight months.

UPDATE:

The year after I wrote this, our local recycle center reduced the cash payment for all Christmas light strings and other plug-in cords by sixty percent, causing many scrappers to discontinue retrieving cords in lieu of collecting bulk magnetic scrap metal.

Last year we exchanged our truck for a motorcycle and quit scrapping. Our most lucrative scrap dumpster was related to infrastructure, and when the company itself began to recycle and disallow scrap dumpster divers, we made a decision to give up scrapping.

We are now entering our third consecutive year of eating from dumpsters. About 75% of our nutrition comes from dumpsters. We did observe what we believe to be an abundance of meat in the fall due to the sell-off of livestock during the exceptional drought season of the summer. We most often eat steamed vegetables and crock pot meals, with salads, abundant fresh fruit, and some sweets. We must purchase coffee and tea. We have been sick only one time, and that was after eating a fast-food meal inside a restaurant and not from a dumpster meal.

Our appliances, dishes, household items and many clothes now come from our own apartment complex dumpsters or curbs, during end-of-month move-outs. We are transitioning from diving due to great need to diving by choice, because we continue to believe strongly in the principles of reuse and living with less.

Years ago I began this strange, stigmatized hobby because of need, when I inadvertently discovered my real passion of looking for things that show sociological or historical trends and stories, so for me, the fun is in the urban archaeology. What media and social culture wants us to see is on the surface. If you want to know about the real world, look at what people throw away.

DUMPSTER DIVING IN THE NEWS:

Northwest Cook: New reality cooking show starts with Dumpster diving

From Trash to Table: Austrian Activists Launch Freegan Cooking Show

Dumpster divers swoop in to grab $40,000 worth of pricy fresh food

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” In a special post-speech analysis, panelists discuss what America did to make President Obama so angry he was actually spitting while he yelled at us”

Have a look, and I mean seriously, for these Onion people to keep a straight face during this thing, they must consume enough Valium to be higher than God.

teaser: “Mitch McConnell, you can eat my balls'”

Several events led to us getting a motorcycle:

Competition for scrap borders on the insane; I know people who work through the entire night, to get a ‘leg up’ on daytime scrappers. We often spend as little as fifteen minutes at a dumpster, because others are also waiting for a chance to junk and scrap. We met a man in a thrift store, an antique shop owner, who was culling the store for books for his shop. I was too selfish to tell him about my secret library- the dumpster, which is way better than the store.

The 1994 reconstructed Dodge Ram pickup truck was costing us, in the end, a dollar a mile to operate. The transmission was stuck in first gear for the most part, the suspension springie thingies sounded like loud people who had just fought, and then, to save the marriage decided to fuck, furiously, on loud, rusty bed springs as people tend to do sometimes (I am sure no one here the Lake at has ever done that though), so every time you turned the steering wheel a loud, bedspringing noise sounded. Also, seveal fan belts were frayed and making different noises: ‘a-squeal, a squeal- a fling fling-squeak.’ One time we were driving down the road and the brake cable simply ruptured, and so the there was this violent suck-suck noise as the last drops of brake fluid were pumped out of the brake fluid container in a futile attempt to stop the vehicle. The grill, I absolutely kid you not was held on with dollar-store zip ties, because one time, when we parked at the dollar store to get some oil for the constantly leaking oil, the front grill simply fell off, with a clang, onto the parking lot Only it is not really the dollar store. It is the six dollar store. But that is another story.

Believe it or not, we were easily able to replace our truck/carbon producing money pit with a Honda Shadow that we absolutely love. So, we only scrap locally in our dumpsters within walking distance, and we still eat out of dumpsters. By the way, in the more than a year that we have been dumpster eating, we have never been sick, and the only thing that was bad that I had to return was a package of cottage cheese- that I bought from the store!

At this point, I would like to re-post something I wrote a while back called What It Is Like To Be In A Community, because when I returned to MyFDL after my manic hiatus, I noticed some interesting group dynamics. I guess that one thing I learned when I was is prison is that sometimes things just ain’t that serious, so here is a little metaphor (I like the sharks especially) to ponder:

A while back, I blogged What It Is Like To Live In A Community on Firedoglake/MyFDL.

I actually wrote the essay while I was in prison.

I have always been fascinated with groups. Anything more than two people, I think, is enough to formulate a group. I find group dynamics most interesting. In women’s prison, the group is a group of people in nearly constant crisis. Inmates have been separated abruptly from everything that once defined them, and they become a faceless number. A criminal outcast, whose life is forever divided into two parts: the before and the after. This division is sometimes compounded when a family member, a child in particular, dies on the outside. I saw this happen, more than once.

Incarceration is akin to being psychologically raped. I have always been a loner for the most part, and being forced to live with women was like being forced to befriend a group of feral cats. Still, I had hope that the members of the group could recognize their commonality rather than their differences, and work together toward a common goal of redefining the second half of their lives to incorporate the prison experience in a positive, rather than a negative way.

The key, I think, is in forgiveness, and in letting go of resentments. For me, this is a work in progress, or, as they say in the recovery program, “progress not perfection.”

What It Is Like To Live In A Community

A community is like a boat. Everyone must grab an oar and row. Otherwise, the boat just sits in the water.

Some people have oars, but their oars are not quite in the water, so it is really good to help them, to find their oar and get it into the water.

Sometimes half of the people are working really hard, and rowing forward, while the other half is working really hard to row backward, or sideways. In this case, the boat does not go anywhere; it just zigs and zags and circles and sits, attracting attention from other boats in the sea, who look and point and laugh and laugh. So it is really good to try and be sure that everyone rows in the same direction.

Sometimes people get tired and mad, and they throw their oars, so you have to be really careful and duck. Otherwise, an airborne oar could chop your head off, and your head would flop and splat across the deck, and slip and slide and splash into the water, where the hungry sharks are waiting, to tear your head to bits and eat it.

Other times, people may get to fighting over their oars, and they say things like: Your oar is ugly, or Yours has holes and so does your mama, or Well, your mama’s so fat she plays pool with the planets, or You don’t even have an oar, do you, or You do you and I’ll do me, or Who’s the bitch that stole my motherfuckin’ oar.

And then they all start fighting and beating the living crap out of each other with their oars, and throwing each other overboard, where the hungry sharks are waiting, to tear them to bits and eat them.

People might fall in love and forget to row altogether. So they sneak in and out of portholes, and up and down the ladders at the back of the boat all hours of the night, and write notes to each other, and set up meetings. Since no one is really rowing, to speak of, the boat goes nowhere. It just rocks and rocks and rocks, and the hungry sharks laugh and laugh because they know that sooner or later a couple of lovers will fight, as they always do, and someone will get tossed overboard, for the sharks to tear them to bits and eat them.

It is good to have a nautical chart. Otherwise, the boat will get lost, and people will try to jump off and swim, but they don’t stand a chance, because the sharks will tear them to bits and eat them, and stuff themselves, then sink to the bottom of the ocean and sleep.

One day, when everyone is rowing in the same direction and following the chart, the boat will be the envy of all the seas. Other boats will notice that everyone is tan and healthy, and they will never know that there was a time when its occupants were beating the living crap out of each other and turning each other into shark food.

People on the boat will notice a whole new world out there, and they will say, we don’t have to stop at that little piece of land after all, because we can row to the land of our dreams!

Dumpsters are so ubiquitous that they are easy to miss. Hidden in plain view, if you will. Since they contain trash, we usually only notice them when they become an eyesore.

Some folks in Alaska, however, came up with the idea of using dumpsters to convey messages that promote health and peace. Here is what they did:

“We worked with the ReCycle Center that had leftover paint people had turned in. They had the paint, and we had the dumpsters. So we coordinated a system with Public Works to use the dumpsters. Anybody could adopt a dumpster. Public Works would go out and pressure-wash them. Folks got paint from the ReCycle Center and went out and painted those things. Then we got three of our biggest vendors in town, our local stores (Alaska Commercial Company, Swansons and ANICA) to donate prizes. The first year, prizes were $400 for first place, $300 for second and $200 for third. We got people who worked in some form of the art field to be our judges, and off it went.

“Public Health Nursing, school groups and even individual youth have won. Kids have adopted dumpsters in their neighborhoods. They’ve painted fireweed and little kids pouring water on the flowers, and a big happy face with teeth. Some of the college students’ work was remarkable. This idea also went to the Western Regional 4-H Leaders Forum in Washington some years ago.
“In rural Alaska, dumpsters serve a huge purpose. The Cooperative Extension Service Bethel District is 55,000 sq. miles. You think of it as pristine Alaska. There’s little worse than coming to a rural community for the first time and seeing garbage on the ground. The Cleanup/Greenup Project and the Adopt-A-Dumpster Contest have helped make a difference.
“You just don’t get it about living in ‘Bush Alaska’ until you come here!”

-Janet Athanas, Bethel Parks & Recreation Department

The creative folks of Alaska have it just about right: Involve everyone from Public Health Nursing to school kids, roll up your sleeves and generate some grant money, make it a contest, and produce something meaningful for the community at large. This must have been a really fun grant-writing experience as well.

I often fantasize about community activism. To me, this is a prime example.

The above video is from Seward, Alaska. If you do not like to look at dumpsters, just focus on the background because Alaska is art, all by itself.


The Healthy People 2010 Bethel Dumpster Art article, showing dumpsters with health messages:

Van Crushing

Van Crushing by Proggie on flickr under non-commercial creative commons.

A few days ago, a friend and neighbor of ours asked for directions to the metal recycle center. He needed some extra money and he had some aluminum that he wanted to exchange for cash. Our friend has an excellent job as a cook at a national chain steakhouse that consistently receives excellent Zagat ratings. He is married, with one young daughter.

Our friend is uninsured, and his family receives food stamps because, even though he has a good full-time job, the pay is insufficient for the family to live on.

When our friend returned from the recycle center, he was ecstatic, as a first-time visitor to recycle always is, because it is fascinating, and also because he had received just over four dollars for his clean piece of aluminum. By “clean” I mean that the aluminum was not mixed with other metals, and there was no plastic attached to it.

The working poor are now collecting scrap metal to get by and this is a recent trend. This man’s example is just one of many that we have seen in the past three to four months.

‘Our’ dumpsters that were once bounties of riches that we had mostly to ourselves are now harvested so often that we can no longer expect to find anything; the practice of collecting recycle scraps no longer is limited to the unemployed. At recycle we have witnessed everything from people on foot or in wheelchairs or pushing grocery carts to well dressed people in high-end vehicles.

What is scrap metal?

For the purposes of this discussion, scrap metal is salvaged metal that can be recycled. The most popular scrap metals are copper, aluminum, brass, stainless steel, iron, chrome, steel, bronze and shreddable sheet metal.

Copper, aluminum and iron are elements, listed in the Periodic Table with symbols Cu, Al and Fe. Copper and aluminum do not stick to magnets. Sometimes it is easy to be fooled. I have taken coils of shiny, beautiful copper wire to recycle, only to find out that the wire is copper coated or copper color, over a basic layer of sheet metal.

Magnets are essential to distinguish between types of scrap metals. In a pinch, a small old car stereo speaker makes a pretty good magnet.

Copper and aluminum are money metals, with copper being the most valuable of all scrap metals. Copper is perhaps most often associated with wiring. Anything that plugs into the wall will have copper, and so, appliance cords are popular among scrappers. Some wires are easy to strip and some are not. If I cannot strip a wire easily with box cutters, I turn it in at recycle as insulated copper, at a reduced rate. We do not burn wiring, nor do we condone it, although some people do.

The electricity grid, because of its high copper content, is sometimes the target of thieves. High-end plumbing pipes are made of copper. Metal theft often involves plumbing.

Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Brass is a high-quality money metal that does not stick to a magnet and, due to its unique composition and sound conduction, it is a metal of choice for musical instruments. Most of our brass comes from door knobs, drawer pulls, lamps, and discarded items from the electrical grid. Some lamps can fool. Die cast can look almost exactly like yellow brass. Match Box toy cars, for example, are die cast. Die cast brings a fraction of the price of real brass.

Stainless steel, or corrosion resistant steel is a steel alloy with at least 10.5% chromium. Steel is an alloy of mostly iron, combined with a small percentage of carbon or other elements.

The term “money metal” is a common slang term for those metals that bring the most money for the least amount of weight. Stainless steel is a money metal that is often overlooked by the scrapper and tossed onto the sheet metal pile at the back of the yard.

Things marked “Stainless steel” can either be magnetic or not. This depends on the atomic arrangement. Perhaps a reader can explain the metal chemistry and physics better here. For the scrapper’s purpose, if it sticks to a magnet, the scrap yard will most likely consider it sheet metal, and the scrapper will receive a reduced price, or scrap price. However, the difference between high-grade stainless and reduced-rate scrap is significant.

By the way, just so you know, what happens to be stamped on a metal does not necessarily mean it is what it says. I have had items marked “14K” that were not gold. The exception to this is silver. Silver items are stamped, somewhere on the item, on a rim, a ridge, somewhere not very visible, with the symbol “925,” meaning 92.5% elemental silver by weight. If you are not looking at such a symbol, you are not looking at silver. You are most likely looking at silver plate or stainless. So, if you are thinking of cleaning all of the silver out of the thrift stores and flea markets, take a magnet (silver does not stick) and a really good magnifying glass, because for now, anyway, silver plate is essentially a scrap metal.

Another note on silver: Consider hanging onto it if you can. Silver is generally increasing in value. Here is a precious metal prices ticker.

Bronze is an alloy of mainly copper. It is not a common metal for a scapper to encounter; bronze is used, for example, in the manufacture of truck gears. Bronze chemistry is interesting. (My sister is a bronze foundry foreman.)

Metals that do stick to magnets bring “shreddable sheet metal” prices, which in this area is currently between ten and twelve cents a pound. Sheet metal is valuable to the scrapper due to its collective weight. For this reason, it is nice to have a long-bed pickup truck. Our truck is a reconstructed 1995 Dodge Ram 1500 that we got from a salvage yard, and it is perfect for hauling metal scraps.

In a future post, I will talk about the steps in metal recycle, from the initial scale to the mill.

I encourage everyone to visit their local metal recycle center, because it is fascinating. For example, in addition to the brass urn with someone’s ashes inside (the owner of the ashes eventually retrieved the urn), we saw a coffin, among other things, including a train engine car without the engine and a perimeter wall made of school buses.

Hat tip to Masoninblue, my scrapping partner, for editing this post.

When Archimedes quantified the physics behind the six simple machines that perform work and make moving things easier for humans, he probably was not hunting for scrap metal on a daily basis because he could not find a job. Or else he wasn’t a redneck.

I grew up around tools because my father enjoyed woodworking. In fact, at age 89, he still works in his wood shop. Touching his tools was a death sentence, and he always knew their exact positions and places at any given time, such that, if you moved one, you ended up feeling like Paul Shelton in Misery when Annie Wilkes says, “Paul. My little ceramic penguin in the study always faces due south. Now it faces north. You’ve been out.” So I always had great respect for tools, although I did not use them much.

Taking apart a sattelite dish

This huge old satellite dish is mostly aluminum, except for the extremely rusted nuts and bolts. Required WD-40, vice grips, socket wrenches, a hammer and a ladder.

Lamps

A good deal of infrastructure goes to the landfill each day. We retrieved these lamps from a dumpster, for the nice aluminum. I also think the bulbs are pretty, so I collect them.

The six simple machines or tools are pretty much all present on a bicycle, and they are:

The lever

Force is applied to one end of a lever, and the force is magnified at the business end. Examples are the baseball bat, the crowbar, and the seesaw. The crowbar can be handy for scrapping activities such as removing tires or prying something apart when you have given up on other tools. We have one, but it is not very long and so there is not enough force magnification going on. We do not have a baseball bat, and this is a good thing because we have had a couple of annoying encounters with people who saw fit to invade our dumpster when we were in it and a bat could have complicated things.

Wheel and axle

We have these on our truck. Another example is a rolling pin, but I have never had a sudden urge to bake a pie while I was in a dumpster, so I have not collected them, although they are available free of charge in any number of dumpsters if you need one. Wheels work really well. We found this out when we were driving down the road and our brake cable ruptured. After pumping the brakes for several minutes (he was driving) I said something like, “What do you think that sucking noise is?” He said he did not know, and I said, “Since there is a red light and all, maybe you could actually see if we even have an emergency brake,” which he did, and that is good because we used it all the way home and then all the way to the shop the next morning, although we did discuss (I kid you not) the fact that since we were broke and since the emergency brake was working so well, maybe we could just use that for a while. At the brake shop the next morning the repair guy told us that people actually do that. Oh. The sucking noise was the noise of the last few drops of brake fluid being violently and repeatedly sucked out of that brake fluid container, as we rolled down the road, thinking we were going to die.

Inclined Plane

An inclined plane is a ramp. We do not have one but I wish we did. The work is spread over distance with a ramp. I love those really sturdy aluminum ramps sort of like the things that are attached to a U-Haul rental. I always thought that there were a lot of ramps around during the building of the Pyramids.

Wedge

Double inclined plane. Examples are axes, knives, chisels, screwdrivers, and if I am not mistaken, animal horns are also a type of wedge. Wedges are essential. You cannot function without screwdrivers and, probably the most important piece of scrapping equipment is a lineman’s wire cutter. I used to lose these things all the time. They disappeared faster than money in Iraq until one day, when a retired electrician gave me something called a Klein tool. Home Depot does not sell these things. It is a high-end wire cutter. Once you get a good wire cutter it is like finding a good ratcheting screwdriver or a great set of vice grips for the first time. You will think, “How did I ever make it without these things? How was it even possible to function without them?”

Screw

A screw is an inclined plane wrapped around a shaft, and torquing force is used, that is, applying force perpendicular to the groove to translate rotational into linear force. The object of the game in scrapping is to unscrew though, and so a ratcheting screwdriver with several heads and an extension is a must. Other tools that unscrew things are the hammer, the sledge hammer, the plug-in reciprocating saw and the blow torch. As you de-evolve through the list, your language may get quite colorful.

Pulley

We do not yet have the wheel part of our pulley but we have some great ropes, so we are ready when the right wheel presents itself. As a substitute for the wheel, we have a donut-shaped magnet that we have put the rope through, and we lower the rope into the dumpster with it, to pull up small pieces of metal.

Other Tools

Archimedes may not have had zip ties but we do, and they came in really handy one day when the front grill fell off the truck. Duct tape holds on, what is that strip on the side of the truck? It’s not really a bumper but you know what I am talking about. I often wonder how Archimedes made it through his life without magnets, duct tape, flashlights, bug repellent, WD-40 and AA batteries.

And another thing: Don’t do what we do and go out scrapping without taking water. Honestly, this is the truth: I was so parched one time that I dove for the nearest ditch, drank the water and took my chances, so you know. Going out without water during a heat advisory is serious, and it affects you sort of like nitrogen narcosis in scuba diving: you become disoriented but you do not know it.


Six simple machines reference article
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Finally, a summertime tune, with a bass, banjo, and even a jug- I am sure you remember this!