As prices wane, Yorkers scrap metal for fun and necessity


People often turn to the scrap yard when hard times hit.

When the economy is down, Paz Metals, a scrap metal dealer in Hellam Township, gets more material.

"People are scrapping more stuff," said Leon Fellah, co-owner. "Some people who are out of work do it full-time. It's not easy, but it's an honest living."

Most of Paz's scrap material comes from businesses: Lancaster General Hospital and some school districts sell their electronic waste, or e-waste, to the company, which has a certification that allows it to break down and sell computers, insuring the data they hold is destroyed.

But individuals and families who sell scrap are in and out of Paz almost continually between business hours of 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday and 7 a.m. to noon Saturday.

Most are out to make some side money, either to stretch budgets or to buy beer on the weekend.

In a recovering economy with a tight job market where wages are depressed, scrapping provides a lifeline to those who aren't quite making it.

"There'll be families that come in who live out of their car. I see that maybe twice a week," said Fellah's son Shailee Fellah, a history major at Temple University who works in the receiving area for nonferrous metals. "Scrapping is their last resort to get money. There's no other way for them to get a job."

Money for metal: A woman stood near the giant scale where ferrous metals are weighed, waiting for her companion to finish unloading their haul. She said she depends on scrapping to pay the bills and finds it fun and rewarding. But she said it's also hard, dirty and degrading work.

She has marks on her arms from taking apart electronics, which can be dangerous — e-waste often contains lead and other toxic substances like mercury, cadmium, beryllium and various flame retardants.

Lana Martin, a homemaker, collects and sells scrap three days a week with her husband, Michael.

The Hellam Township couple had already made $88 before they sold what they'd gathered on Wednesday, their third day of scrapping last week.

"We get it from developments, from back alleys — I love scrapping!" Lana said.

They sell scrap to supplement Michael's income as a part-time maintenance man at Arby's and his disability payments.

Treasure hunting: Tony Gotwalt, who lives in Springettsbury Township, works with Lou Girolami, the manager of Refindings, an architectural salvage shop in York City.

Girolami will call Gotwalt if he has some metal he doesn't think he can sell in his store, and Gotwalt brings it to Paz.

On a recent Wednesday, the two had just finished cleaning out a house and Gotwalt had a big haul: household items, aluminum cookware, ruined decorative items including a large, heavy-looking vase.

He can make more than $100 a trip, and he comes to Paz about once a week. He wouldn't scrap full-time, he said, because the financial rewards don't match the time and effort he'd have to put into finding and hauling the metal.

Gotwalt, a machinist and blacksmith (for whom Morrison is looking for an anvil) was recently laid off from his job at General Dynamics in Red Lion.

"I guess you could say this is my full-time job for now," he said dubiously. "It's fun. I call it treasure-hunting."

A man emptied a dump truck a few feet away, sending a violent stream of metal to the ground.

"There are hazards," Gotwalt said with a laugh.