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Rudi Kiefer: Recycling, an unexpected way to do good and make a little cash
Rudi Kiefer

Gordon Gekko was a greedy stock trader played by Michael Douglas in the 1987 movie “Wall Street”.  His quote “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing for money” wasn’t about recycling, but it certainly applies. Throwing metal in the trash is wasteful and burdens Hall County’s landfills. The recycler I use in Lula has always taken junk off my hands that one wouldn’t consider valuable at first sight. Rusted car exhaust, boxes of nails pulled during home repairs, rinsed-out food cans, worn-out lawnmowers, and the metal from old washers and dryers - all of these generated a cashable check. My old Chevy van, barely able to limp to Lula on worn-out tires and a clanking engine, was ready for the shredder. I was hoping to recover just the cost of the gas. Surprisingly, the junker was still worth $245 as scrap metal.

Once you start saving metal for recycling, it grows into an amazingly large pile over time. There are broken-down lawn chairs, ceiling fan motors that quit turning, broken tools, a toaster oven, roof gutters, and half a lawn tractor found in the woods that must have been there since the 1970’s.

Recyclers like it when the metal comes pre-separated by type. It’s easy to do. The old stereo speakers, purchased during the Reagan years, no longer put out good sound but each speaker element has a big magnet at its end that can serve for testing the metal. Items that cling to the magnet are steel and go in one pile. Non-magnetic, lightweight metal pieces like the busted track from a shower door are aluminum, fetching a higher price. Soda and beer cans are particularly valuable and should be bagged separately. If house wiring has been replaced, the recycler will pay for the old copper wire scraps as “miscellaneous coated wire”.  Electric motors, like the ones in washing machines, window air conditioners or refrigerators, should again be separate as they’re worth more than the sheet metal from the washer. If you have the condenser (outside unit) and evaporator (inside the house) of the home air conditioning system replaced and choose to recycle them yourself for a handsome amount of money, be sure to bring receipts from the new installation with you. Our local recyclers check ID and take theft prevention seriously, but they do it with a friendly smile.


Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at

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