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A stormy economy buffets everyone
Dumped or recycled, trash is a sign of how the economy is doing

March 31, 2008 By Leslie A. Pappas

A trash heap can be a telling economic indicator.

When the economy is good, people remodel kitchens, redesign family rooms, build additions — and piles at the landfills rise.

Lately, however, the people who make a living by hauling, dumping and clearing away people's junk can see signs of a slowdown.

Trash transfer stations, which charge by the ton, have seen business drop; scrap yards, which pay by the  pound, have seen piles increase.

"The tonnage that we're receiving has absolutely gone down," says Logan Miller, chief of facilities management at the Delaware Solid Waste Authority. He estimates his facilities have seen a 10 percent drop in volume over the past six months. The authority, which accepts both household and commercial waste, charges $61.50 per ton to dump at the landfill.  Miller attributes most of the recent decrease to the housing slump, which has slowed home renovations and new construction. That means a lot less demolition debris, not to mention less packing material that comes  with installing new floors, windows, doors and appliances.

There's also been a drop in the number of so-called "white goods" — refrigerators, dishwashers and other household appliances.

"We get much less [of those] when the economy is down," Miller says.

That's because the few that do get thrown out end up in recycling centers — in exchange for cash.

A stormy economy buffets everyone

"We tend to pick up when the economy goes down," says Scott Sherr, owner of Diamond State Recycling  Corp. in Wilmington. "As the economy gets worse, people look for other sources of income."

And that means metal: copper, brass, steel — in every form imaginable.

"Bed springs, bed rails that would normally go to the landfill ... the old washing machine ... the stuff they used  to throw in the trash they're now bringing to us," says Joe Walther, owner of American Scrap in Wilmington.

Tammi Gavin, of Selbyville, is one salvage yard regular.

The single mom, who works 20 hours a week as a sales consultant for a phone company, started "scrapping" in January to make extra cash.

"Jobs are hard to find right now," she says. "I had applied for a full-time position." On days when she starts at noon, she'll be up at 5 a.m., scouting Sussex County yards for junked chicken houses, old satellite dishes, broken air-conditioning units. She knocks on doors, tells the owners she'll clean up their yard for free.

But as times get tougher, it's becoming harder to persuade people to let her haul things away.
"They hold onto it," she says. "And I realized, that's your savings account, there's your 401K. That's that person's retirement."

Others are breaking it down themselves.

"People are starting to realize the value," Gavin says. "More and more people, because they're not working, they're breaking all their stuff down that has been sitting on their property for years. ... that old sprinkler system, the old trucks, they're starting to get rid of them."

The slowing economy has been a mixed blessing for Lou Rohrer, owner of Unwanted Clutter Junk Removal in Newark.

He's been busier than ever clearing out homes that people need to sell or rent.

"Last year just took off," said Rohrer. "We're so busy we want a vacation."

On Tuesday of last week, Rohrer and his crew hustled to clear out a two-story rental on Gilpin Avenue in  Wilmington, making sure to set aside metals — the tea kettle, the stainless steel clothing rod, iron lawn
chairs, a pile of wire kitchen shelves — to recycle before heading to the dump. After that, he made it to three little jobs — an old box spring, a couch and a used washer and dryer.

But the final job of the day — a $25 dollar pick-up of an old refrigerator sitting in a front yard in New Castle — got canceled. Before Rohrer was able to get there, some scrappers had already taken it.

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Leslie A. Pappas Phone +1 215-266-6771
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