Now, no longer. After likely tens of thousands of miles and many undesired repairs, the car was just another offering last week to the mega shredder of Jersey City.
Plucked by a material handler from a mountain of graying scrap, the vehicle was placed on a conveyor belt. It inched forward with the rest of the gnarled metal until, several stories up, it slid down into the mega shredder’s gully. Here, out of sight, an array of 1,100-pound hammers, turned by a 100-ton rotor, greeted it.
Such is the end for hundreds of vehicles each day at Claremont Terminal, and for countless other things of metal, from refrigerators to rebar.
The yard’s mega shredder can consume about 4,000 tons of assorted scrap a day, officials here say. But the goal isn’t simply to grind obsolete everyday objects into unrecognizable clumps. Rather, the aim is to feed something with a bigger appetite than a mega-shredder: the global commodities market.
Officials with Sims Metal Management, which owns Claremont Terminal and about 270 other scrap yards across the globe, proudly refer to their business as above-ground mining. Recycling is the core of what they do, and out of the 4,000 tons of scrap the mega-shredder consumes each day emerges some 2,800 to 3,000 tons of steel, aluminum, copper, brass and a mishmash they call zorba, according to Joe Payesko, general manager for Claremont Terminal and other regional facilities.
Daniel Strechay, a spokesman Sims Metal Management, stands next to a spare rotor from the company's mega shredder in Jersey City's Claremont Terminal.
And when it leaves, it’s usually via deep-water vessels docking in the harbor that Claremont shares with an exclusive gated community called Port Liberte, and the even more exclusive Liberty National Golf Course.
The ships’ destination: smelters overseas. About 90 percent of Claremont’s scrap is ocean-bound. Turkey is a big buyer, as is South Korea.
Strechay stresses the environmental side of what the scrap business does. It keeps reusable materials out of landfills and offsets some of the ecological damage of mining for iron ore. But the bottom line is scrap also makes money. The stuff nets between $370 to $390 a gross ton when it’s delivered domestically, Payesko said. Overseas buyers pay about the same.
And while there are significant challenges to the business – Claremont managers have to be agile to respond to falling commodity prices – all in all, scrap is recession-proof, they say. There simply is too much demand worldwide for new products, new buildings, new anything that needs metal.
During a visit last week, workers in massive dump trucks were busy filling barges – 20 tons at a time – with a specially blended, low-copper mix. They had a few hours before a ship docked for a 27,000-ton meal, and then get underway for a mill in Mexico.
“Making steel is like cooking. Each steel maker has his own recipe,” Strechay said as he walked down a valley separating mountains of rust-colored chunks.
Part of what makes Claremont Terminal a crown jewel of Sims’ global empire is the fact that it sits on 83 acres along the Hudson River. Clear days afford splendid views of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan.
All of that land gives the yard ample space for its instruments of scrap destruction. Besides the material handlers, front-end loaders and mammoth-sized dump trucks, there is a guillotine shredder that sheers metal into long strips that some smelters prefer. There is a baler that makes tidy cubes out of mounds of tin cans.
And there is also the downstream processor, a massive mill that extracts more metal from materials such as insulated copper wiring that just a few years ago were destined for landfills. Payesko estimates that as a result of such processes, the yard loses just 1.5 to 3 percent of the metal inside objects that come to be scrapped; a decade ago, the loss amount was closer to 30 percent.
Scrap comes to Claremont through a number of channels. One is through the 14 satellite scrap yards that Sims operates in the region, including in Newark. Another is the peddler yard, at the entrance of Claremont, where people pull up in beat-up trucks and vans and sell by the ton broken toasters and bum refrigerators they’ve scavenged from construction sites and trash pick-up routes.
Claremont also employs a commercial group to hunt up new scrap opportunities. One such deal was a contract with New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority to shred decommissioned subway cars, Payesko said.
Sims generated about $9 billion in revenue for its 2012 fiscal year, which ended last June. While the company does not disclose profits of individual facilities, “We know that this is (our) most productive facility in the world,” Strechay said of Claremont. “This facility alone, if you broke it off, would be in the top 25 largest scrap companies in the United States.”
Much of this is thanks to the mega shredder. Installed in 2007, at the cost of about $18 million, the 9,000-horsepower machine is among the most powerful in operation. Of Claremont’s 275 workers, about 30 work on the mega shredder, during one of three shifts each day. The shredder runs largely overnight, when electricity is cheaper. Taking it offline during the day also allows for necessary maintenance. For every hour the shredder is in operation, it needs an hour of repairs, Strechay said.
But it’s no slouch. Hurricane Sandy caused about $4 million of damage to Claremont, Payesko said. But the shredder was back up and running the day after power was restored at the plant. It was later rewarded with a mighty meal. Claremont received about 150,000 to 200,000 tons of additional scrap because of the storm.
Bits of history often pass through Claremont. Payesko smiled with some pride as he recalled the 60,000 seats he shredded from Giants Stadium after it came down. Out the wreckage of Yankees Stadium that Sims handled, Payesko saved a “no pepper games” sign.
Another fine moment was the shredding of “The Gates,” an oft-ridiculed art installation that, for two weeks in 2005, covered Central Park in saffron-colored drapes.
After scrap passes through the hammer mill, like cheese through a hand-cranked grater, magnets pull off the ferrous material, or the stuff containing iron and steel. This later streams past pickers who pluck out little motors containing copper that steel mills cannot handle.
Meanwhile, the non-ferrous materials – ranging from aluminum and brass to foam and rubber – gets trucked off to the downstream processor for further refining.
Today it’s Jeff Colgan, a shift supervisor. He sits in a chair that Captain Kirk would call home, with 10 screens before him. Each displays a different view of the journey into, and out of, the mega shredder. He keeps watch on two gauges that tell him how hard the machine is running, and he uses a pair of joysticks to control the flow of scrap. Two other screens feed him data.
A mild cacophony fills the room, which trembles constantly under the roar of the mega shredder. Colgan says he can only take a half a shift in the pulpit. Past him, a wall of bulletproof glass offer a view of the mega shredder’s mouth. Billows of steam puff out continuously as hoses spray to keep the machine from overheating or spewing metallic dust.
So much metal disappears so quickly. Slipping by, almost unnoticed, the red sedan heads for reincarnation.
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