Recycling For Profit: The Evolution of the American Scrap Industry

EPA Grant Number: U915838
Title: Recycling For Profit: The Evolution of the American Scrap Industry
Investigators: Zimring, Carl A.
Institution: Carnegie Mellon University
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: August 1, 2000 through August 1, 2002
Project Amount: $81,646
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2000) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Social Science , Academic Fellowships


The evolution of the scrap material industry will be examined to determine how independently-operated companies were established and grew to contribute to material flows. Also studied will be how internal and external factors (including investments in technology, relations with suppliers and buyers of post-consumer materials, and cultural factors relating to the industry's association with notions of waste) historically have determined the industry's success or failure.


By using economic, narrative, and demographic data, the scope and nature of the growth of scrap trading and processing can be charted?from its small, localized efforts in the mid-19th century to its growth as a well-organized industry comprised of specialists working on local, regional, and global levels. A variety of qualitative and quantitative sources will be used to document this evolution. Quantitative sources include the U.S. Census of Business Wholesale Trade reports (which include data on the national and local levels of trade in the scrap iron and steel, scrap rubber, and waste paper industries) and the IPUMS sample of the U.S. Census of Population, which can determine the proportion of immigrants to native-born individuals who list their occupation as "junk" as well as the ethnicity and spatial distribution of individuals who list their occupation as "junk." Analysis of city directories for Pittsburgh, New York, and Philadelphia will determine the number of and spatial distribution of scrap firms within three of the major centers of scrap dealing. These data may indicate the effects of zoning ordinances seeking to eliminate "dirty" activities on the location of scrap yards in metropolitan areas. Qualitative sources include oral interviews, memoirs of scrap dealers, the records of firms and trade associations, trade journals such as Scrap Age and the Waste Trade Journal, and the preserved purchase invoices and correspondence of scrap firms and customers. These sources are available at the headquarters of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in Washington, DC, the American Iron and Steel Institute's archives (at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Delaware), and at various public and university libraries in the Pittsburgh area.

Expected Results:

The hypothesis is that scrap yards were pushed to areas on urban peripheries and to poorer neighborhoods, where zoning ordinances were not enforced.

Supplemental Keywords:

ethnic groups, hazardous materials, hazardous waste, sustainable development, waste reduction, waste minimization, public policy, socioeconomic, conservation, history, industrial ecology, metals, heavy metals, toxics, chlorofluorocarbons, CFCs, polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs, social science, remediation., RFA, Economic, Social, & Behavioral Science Research Program, Air, Toxics, Geographic Area, Waste, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, National Recommended Water Quality, air toxics, exploratory research environmental biology, Remediation, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Chemical Mixtures - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecosystem Protection, environmental justice, State, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Corporate Performance, Ecological Effects - Human Health, decision-making, Environmental Statistics, Mid-Atlantic, Engineering, Chemistry, & Physics, East Coast, Market mechanisms, Economics & Decision Making, Ecological Indicators, hazardous waste management, hazardous waste treatment, demographic, Willimgton, DE, scrap industry, sustainable development, waste minimization, waste reduction, Pennsylvania, economic research, Delaware (DE), zoning ordinances, Washington, DC, conservation, economic issues, socioeconomics, ethnic groups, hazardous waste, hazardous waste facilities, Philadelphia, ethnicity, hazardous waste generation, Polychlorinated Biphenyls PCBs:, PCB, culture and social practices, New York, NY, CFCs, DC, public policy, social science, scrap programs, heavy metals, metals, social sciences, PA, New York (NY), Pittsburgh, PA

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2001
  • Final