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RECYCLING: What do companies do with scraps and is recycling really sustainable?

By Ayesha Hana Shaji - Texas Metro News Team

Louis Okon, President Okon Metals Recycling Photo Credit: Okon Metals

As conversations about sustainability and environmental conservation continue to gain momentum, especially during the month of April leading up to Earth Day on the 22nd, recycling is once again a star strategy to reduce waste and prevent landfills from overflowing.

Recycling has become an increasingly important aspect of our lives, as we strive to protect the environment and reduce our carbon footprint. Okon Metals is a family-owned recycling company established in 1909. They’ve one of the largest public recycling facilities in the southwest with 20 acres of land, said Louis Okon, president of Okon Metals.

“We keep about 15,000 tons, which is about 30 million pounds, out of the landfill each month,” he said.

Okon Metals recycles cardboard, non-ferrous metals like copper and aluminum, ferrous metals which are different grades of steel, magnets and they also recycle renewable energy such as wind turbines and solar, he said.

Once the materials are brought to their facility, Okon said they are weighed, separated and then gets processed by either cutting down with shears, shredding or brailing.

“Then we ship it in truckload quantities, basically 45,000 pound load quantities, to mills all around the world to accept that material and buy the material from us and melt it back down into new products,” Okon said.

If entities want to start their sustainability journey through recycling, there are few things to keep in mind: to sell some recyclable materials to companies in Texas, they need to go to their local recycling facility and get registered for a recycling card, said Okon.

The Texas Department of Public Safety's Texas Metal Program regulates metal recycling companies. To sell metal to a recycling company, the seller needs a valid Department of Public Safety Identification Card or Driver's License.

With this, Okon said, they provide sellers with a cash card, valid for two years, that has the seller’s thumbprint, picture and address details.

Also, by separating materials, sellers can potentially increase the value of the materials and ensure that they are properly processed, Okon said. Making sure the recyclable materials are not contaminated is also important. At large, anything with fluid on or is sealed, is not accepted as they can be dangerous and explode.

“We like to say we were green when green was just a color,” Okon said. “Now, green represents recycling and the environment. While we've been doing this for 114 years, we're very excited to have industries make it a priority.”

But it's important to remember that recycling is not always a perfect solution. While recycling can reduce waste and conserve natural resources, it also requires energy to collect, sort, and process materials, he said.

There are certain items, metals mainly, which are economical financially and environmentally. However, some other materials, like plastic and glass, often are not. Okon said knowing whether the net gain is higher than the cost is one way to determine it.

“What I like to use as an example is if it requires three barrels of oil to recycle one barrel of oil, is that really a net gain? Is that really a positive?” he asked.

It’s all about economics, he said. Depending on the supply and demand for each material, the prices for those materials fluctuate. If the prices of the material are lower than the output to get them recycled, then it's a financial loss.

For example, the prices for paper and cardboard are historically low, Okon said. Currently, it’s less than a penny a pound.

If you're wanting to recycle one pound of newspaper, he said, you're going to spend a lot more on gasoline than you will on a rebate for that material.

“Is it worth it financially and environmentally,” Okan asked. “Because if you're driving to downtown Dallas to recycle a newspaper, the net cost and fuel, and not only the dollar cost of fuel, but the environmental cost, is gonna be higher than the benefit of recycling those newspapers.”

But if an entity brings in thousands of pounds in one load, then the quantity helps offset the environmental and financial costs, he said, because, “ultimately, recycling is an important tool in our efforts to protect the environment and create a more sustainable world and sometimes it's better to recycle something to get people in the habit of doing it.

“As the processes improve over time, they'll get more efficient environmentally speaking,” he said, adding that he’s glad that everyone else is joining them in this effort to protect the planet.


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