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Columbia Business Monthly

Metal Collectors: Scrap Recycling Thrives in S.C.

May 31, 2018 03:40PM ● Published by Kathleen Maris
By John McCurry

Recycling of scrap metal is a significant industry in South Carolina. The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) estimates that metal recycling accounts for 3,400 direct jobs with an economic impact of more than $823 million. When supplier and induced [re-spending by employees and suppliers] is included, those figures rise to 10,600 and more than $2 billion.

Many recyclers specialize in recovery of scrap metal produced by various industries in the state. The recent growth of automotive suppliers has increased the amount of metal heading the recyclers. Most everyone in the industry can agree on one thing: business conditions are cyclical with pricing peaks and valleys. The momentum is currently on an upswing. With startup costs high due to the equipment required, most of the growth in the industry has been organic. 

Blake Stanley is manager at CRC Scrap Metal Recycling in Duncan. He also serves as president of the South Carolina Recyclers Association, which represents 40 metal recyclers in the state, along with trucking firms and vendors that serve the industry. CRC is a family business, started by Stanley’s grandfather in 2007. It employs 28, and specializes in processing of industrial, demolition, and wholesale scrap. Once CRC receives scrap from its clients, it either bails or sheers it to reduce its size before shipping to customers. The company picks up scrap from clients within about 75 miles of its facility.

Statewide, there are two market segments: domestic and international. Stanley says most of the processed scrap metal goes to China, India, Pakistan, or Malaysia. Exports have become a bigger part of CRC’s business in recent years. 

“The way I look at scrap, it’s kind of like a rug sale,” Stanley observes. “When we have enough material, we bid it out to international and domestic customers. Whoever is the highest bidder is where the scrap goes.”

Education of government officials, as well as the public, is part of the association’s agenda. It hosts an annual breakfast at the statehouse, with displays of scrap metal produced by South Carolina companies. Stanley notes that there are three steel mills in South Carolina that use metals collected by recyclers to produce new products.

“We’re not just keeping things out of the landfill,” he says. “This is a recovered material that has value.”

Stanley says many in the industry are excited about its future and believe prices will remain stable for awhile.

“I’ve been in this business for 12 years, but many have been in it for 30 or 40 years. One thing everyone can agree on is that prices will fluctuate. Right now, we are in the higher range of pricing. That gives everyone confidence, but it also means that we are at a peak and a valley is not far behind.”

Business is also strong at C&C Metal Recycling in Greenwood, a fast-growing company with about 95 percent of its scrap coming from industrial clients, primarily in the automotive and electrical sectors. It serves an area stretching from the Upstate to the coast of North Carolina. The company recently expanded, adding an 81-acre scrap yard, and will soon grow from 35 employs to 55.  It will continue to operate its original facility, and is considering opening a third in Rock Hill.

“We’ve had a pretty good uptick since the election,” says company owner Cliff Redd. “The whole business in South Carolina is positive. Equipment purchases are taking longer, and that says a lot.”

C&C’s expansion included an auto shredder, which Redd says is one of only two in the state that are privately owned. The shredder will help increase metal flow from the public. The company also recycles all the fluids that come in from autos and other scrap, and makes its own back diesel. Everything that comes in is reused. 

“Our heavy volume comes from the industrial side. In automotives, it’s mostly aluminum and carbon steel. These are metal stampers. We don’t deal directly with BMW.”

Although South Carolina’s aerospace industry is growing, C&C hasn’t targeted it yet, but Redd expects that to change. 

“We’ve just scratched the surface of industrial accounts. The Upstate is just full of wonderful accounts. Electrical is a big one. We have brass makers and HVAC companies, and a lot of machine shops.”

Redd describes himself as a newcomer to the industry, but notes that he has learned a lot in seven years, enough to understand its cyclical nature. 

“At the ISRI convention in Las Vegas, the perception of this business going forward is that we will have two to three more strong years. After that, we will see. This is a stock market we play every day.”

Chad Prescott, president of Mid-Carolina Steel & Recycling in Columbia, like Stanley, comes from a family of metal recyclers. His dad started a company in Sumter in 1978. The younger Prescott has been in the business for 23 years. 

Prescott purchased Mid-Carolina Steel in 2015. Mid-Carolina processes scrap metal from automotive and aerospace suppliers, as well as from structural fabricators. It chops it up, bales it, and sorts it to steel mill specifications. 

“We see the industrial business growing,” Prescott says. “Everyone I talk to in the industry thinks it will be strong for the next couple of years.”