Madison’s Alter Metal Recycling has a panoply of nightmarish equipment. Industrial shears, shredders and balers stand in the yard amid 10-ton heaps of eviscerated beater cars, aluminum cans and other scrap.
It’s a gorgeous spring day, crisp and bright. Chad Awbrey, facility manager, stands outside his office with his hard hat, safety glasses and vest.
“These are the nice days when you like being in the scrap business, when you can get outside, walk around,” says Awbrey, who has worked at Alter for 11 years and has spent the last three in Madison. “It’s not so much fun when it’s 20 below.”
Springtime is when business picks up here. This yard, about 15 acres on Madison’s east side, is a shredding facility. Feeder lots send truckloads of cans, cars and other less recognizable metals here to be ground up and processed. Alter gets metal from both industrial sources and peddlers.
“We can weigh rail cars along with trucks,” Awbrey says, gesturing to a massive scale where a pickup full of about a dozen clothes driers has just pulled up. The truck scale weighs in 20-pound increments, measuring the weight of the entire pickup and its cargo.
After inspection and unloading, the driers are put onto a 30-foot-long conveyor belt, which delivers them into a fearsome shredder the size of a house, with a tower on top.
“It drops down into the shredder itself,” explains Awbrey. “There’s an in-feed chute; it’s got a big rotor on it, with six rows, and there’s hammers that are in a bell shape, and then those hammers spin around and punch the material through grates.”
“It’s a pretty violent operation,” he says.
The final products are jagged pieces of steel the size of a fist, which are pulled from the detritus by massive magnets. These will then be shipped by rail to steel mills. One 100-pound drier might yield 80 pounds of steel.
“Everything that’s left over goes through another process downstream that can separate aluminum and stainless steel. We [also] have people on belts that pick copper out,” Awbrey says proudly. “At that point in time there’s virtually no metals left. And if there is, then it’s money that we’re losing because we’re not recovering enough.”
Inside another warehouse, boxes of copper wait to be loaded onto another conveyor belt, into another chute, where a big ram will compress them. There’s a constant hum of machinery in this room, punctuated by crashes of clanging metal.
Boxes of Christmas lights sit waiting to be stripped for their valuable copper. Next to the light boxes are 10-foot high piles of wire that have already been stripped out. Beer can tabs litter the floor. Outside there is a mountain of aluminum cans — Awbrey estimates that it weighs around 100,000 pounds. At 24 cans to a pound, that’s 2.4 million cans.
“Our baler was down last week,” says Awbrey nonchalantly. “We’re a little behind.”
Alter Metal Recycling
4400 Sycamore Ave.
Founded: 1898 in Davenport, Iowa
Ferrous metals processed: 6,000 to 10,000 tons a month
Nonferrous metal processed: 750 to 1,000 tons a month
Percentage of shredded metal from car bodies: 40
Number of employees: 41
Metals accepted: Steel, stainless steel, copper, brass and aluminum
Wisconsin facilities: 17
Total facilities: 52