The scrapper economy

Struggling suburbanites turn to scrap metal for money
By Tara Garcia Mathewson

Alyce Dunn

Alyce Dunn has been a metal scrapper for 25 years. She carries a business card identifying herself as a “garbologist.” Photo by John Starks.

Alyce Dunn has been collecting scrap metal to take to recycling centers for close to 25 years.

The first time she went to a scrap yard she was helping other people turn in a large bag of cans. Just by saving their own beverage containers over the winter, they made $150.

It was a light-bulb moment for Dunn, whose business cards now read “Alyce the Garbologist.”

“I said, ‘Whoa, cans are everywhere!’ That’s money on the street,” Dunn said.

Dunn works daily collecting scrap metal to sell for a profit. Usually she travels within Kane County but goes as far north as southern Wisconsin. Rather than sweeping through random alleys before the garbage trucks rumble through, Dunn takes calls from regular customers, monitors the garbage bins of companies that give her exclusive access, and drops off business cards wherever she sees construction.

In many cases, people appreciate the services of scrappers like Dunn because it saves them space in their bins they rent for other trash.

Rising prices for scrap metal and high unemployment have encouraged more and more people to turn to the type of scavenging Dunn has performed for decades. Recycling centers across the region have seen the trend.

“People are more inclined to save aluminum cans when they need extra money,” said Barry Segal, who opened St. Charles Scrap Metal in 1974 and Lake County Scrap Metal in 1981.

And the price is right for people who choose to recycle more than just cans.

Read the full story here.

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