“Making law is a lot like sausage. Everyone agrees it’s a good thing, but no one wants to see it made. Same with a recycling yard. It’s an ugly thing.”
Reza Barkholder graduated from Berkeley at the time when California passed an integrated waste management plan that set a 50% recycling goal. The realities of supporting a young family put law school on hold; Reza got a job managing trucks for a disposal service. More than twenty years later, Reza laments, “I’ve tried to reinvent myself many times, but I’ve never been successful. I keep coming back to scrap.”
Truth is, Reza makes scrap a heck of a lot more exciting than law. After dinner we sped beneath brilliant streetlights along uncluttered freeways to visit the operation he oversees. Every day six dump trucks collect scrap from all over LA and dump it in a Santa Rosa lot. A crane operator sorts through it and fills a metal hopper about the sixe of a dumpster. A forklift driver lifts the hopper and discharges it into the mouth of a shipping container. Then, a bobcat operator compresses the scrap into the 8’x8’x40’ volume. When Reza and I arrived at ten p.m. a truck dropped off the day’s final load, while the sorting crew filled shipping containers. They fill twelve containers and don’t stop until they’re done. Tomorrow, semi’s will haul the containers to the Port of Long Beach while Reza’s six trucks will deliver more scrap.
Two days before meeting Reza, I’d visited the Port of Long Beach, where Lee Peterson told me half the containers returning to China were empty. I never asked what we put in the full ones. We import finished goods from China. What do they buy from us in return? Reza explained that we ship hay and cotton from the Imperial Valley, some of which is grown in contaminated soil and cannot be used in the United States. We also export scrap metal, which the Chinese repurpose. “We try to make our containers 45,000 pounds, near the legal limit for transporting on our roads.” With so many empty containers onboard, ships returning to Asia need weight, ballast. They are glad to have Reza’s scrap. “We only pay $450 to shop a container to China. It would cost three times that to ship one to Oakland.”
So the dance of moving stuff across America, across the world, continues.
How will we live tomorrow?
“The scrap industry is the pulse of our society’s digestive system. We’re the backend. We are seeing a slowdown in scrap. It’s going to continue. We’ve already scrapped the large factories in LA. Now we’re seeing scrap auctions on small containers.”