There’s Copper in Them There Bins

The 3 R's of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

I’ve mentioned before that there is a lot of waste in home renovations. A lot of blogs out there talk about what should be done to reduce our waste. In the end it is our personal lifestyle that dictates how much we contribute to “Waste Reduction”. What I find interesting is that the people living at the bottom of Canada’s (or North America) social-economic scale are some of the “Greenest” people I know. I’m talking about the homeless people and the poverty stricken families that are among every town and city in Canada. These people waste NOTHING simply because when you have nothing, everything is valuable.

In 1990, I was working as a labourer helping to restore the old warehouse district of Vancouver, now know as Gastown. I was young and had my first encounter with a homeless recycling scavenger. The old warehouse had to be gutted and anything that was not original in construction was torn out and put into dumpers by your truly. Around 10am I had my first load and wheeled the cart up to the dumpster when a voice from inside yelled out “Wait! Don’t throw anything. I’m in here!”
I naturally asked “What are you doing in the dumpster?”

“I’m collecting copper pipe and wire. I’ll get out of your way.” the man climbed out of the bin.

“Is it valuable?” I asked

“When there’s enough coming out of a big construction job like this I can make enough to feed myself!” the man said with enthusiasm.

It definitely interested me. I noticed whenever I threw a bunch of tangled copper electric wire into the dumpster, it was like leaving peanuts out for the squirrels in the forest. I never saw the man again, but I knew he came every day by the absence of anything copper in the dumpster. I tried to leave a bunch of copper piping beside the bin but my boss told me not to miss when I threw stuff. I didn’t try to explain.

The metals market is heating up. The six-o’clock news only lists the price of Oil, Gold and the TSX index. Soon they will add the price of lead and copper. Why? Most of the non-ferrous metals are used in electronics. The demand for electronics is going up, up, and up. Copper is now so valuable it’s scrap value is making the news. See the Vancouver sun’s Metal Theft Series

Here are some of my efforts on the 3 R’s font-line: I recently updated an electrical panel with the help of a Master Electrician in Red Deer. The job left a small collection of old wire coils and new wire off-cuts. There was some copper plumbing that was updated on the same job. I talked to Bulldog Metals and got some information on scrap copper pricing and their purchasing policy. When the wire is sheathed in plastic, like most electrical wire, they pay between 30% and 60% of the spot price. The spot price is very volatile and changes quite dramatically almost weekly, so don’t quote me when I say this: Around $2.20/pound for clean, pure, shiny copper.

I looked at my buckets of wire. I would get more if I could strip the wire sheathing. since wire recycling is a hot topic these days I thought there would be someone on Youtube with an invention to remove the plastic cover from solid copper wire. I was right! However, I was wrong about the approximate price!

I though I’d pay up to $40 for a simple tool. Never mind. They start at $80 and quickly go over $200! The hard-on-their-luck scrap collectors don’t stand a chance of getting a tool. So they just burn the wire sheathing off, which pollutes the environment. How Ironic.

There was one video on Youtube that showed a guy stripping wire with nothing more than a hole in a steel plate and a snap-blade welded to the edge of the hole. I used his idea and made my own version.

After spending an hour, i managed to cut off a bunch of sheathing. I weighed my bucket of bright shiny copper. 4 pounds.

I’ll post an update when I’ve taken my wire into the scrap dealer and let you know if it’s really worth it or not.

One hours worth of shiny copper wire