By Katie Pyzyk
Shredders, balers, and shears are well-known tools of the scrap trade, but behind the scenes, some oft-forgotten equipment is quite literally carrying a heavy load: the containers, lids, and tarps that hold and protect scrap material in the facility or while it’s moving to and from scrap customers. These might not be the most sophisticated pieces of scrap equipment, but their designs continue to evolve to help scrapyards improve efficiencies, boost safety, reduce storm-water concerns, and prevent theft.
While the need for containers is self-evident, the lids and tarps are essential for regulatory compliance. For ex-ample, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires proper cargo securement to prevent materials falling out of commercial vehicles. That’s where tarps come in. Lids, on the other hand, help scrap facilities comply with stormwater regulations by keeping scrap out of the rain, which could flush minute metal particles or contaminants off the scrap and into the environment. The No. 1 characteristic to look for in all of these related products is “durability because the scrap business is not gentle,” says Andy Coates, transportation services manager at Sadoff Iron & Metal Co. (Fond du Lac, Wis.). After that, scrapyards prioritize simplicity, he says—containers, lids, and tarps should be “easy to use.”
Contain your materials
The scrap recycling industry handles an extensive variety of materials, and the array of containers to house those materials is nearly as varied. The most popular containers are roll-off boxes, hoppers, and luggers, equipment manu-facturers and suppliers say.
Roll-off boxes remain the tried-and-true workhorses for transporting scrap to and from different players in the supply chain. Steel containers still dominate the industry because of steel’s ruggedness. Customers can expect a steel roll-off container to last 15 to 20 years under the right use and maintenance conditions, these companies say. Steel’s biggest drawback is corrosion. Painting containers—especially with anti-rust protective coatings—can pro-long container life, as can refurbishment. “Our own fabricators extend the life of containers sometimes several times. But it does get to a point where it doesn’t make sense to put them back together anymore and they’re sent to the shear,” Coates says. Metals recyclers can add that end-of-life container to the scrap pile.
Safety is one of the most important factors manufacturers consider when designing containers. “Everyone is striving to make these products safer. Another important factor the end user is looking for is the ease of loading and unloading,” says a sales representative for an Ohio-based equipment supplier. Scrapyards also seek the perfect balance of durability and weight—containers that are rugged but also as light as possible to cut down on transpor-tation costs. That’s another drawback of steel containers: Although they’re long lasting, they’re heavier than con-tainers made from other materials.
Roll-off containers come in numerous sizes, denoted by their capacity in cubic yards. In the scrap recycling in-dustry, the “20-, 30-, and 40-yard [models] are 80 percent of the boxes,” says the president of a Michigan-based container supplier and truck manufacturer. Of those, suppliers across the board name 30-yard roll-off containers as the most popular size.
These sources recommend choosing a supplier who lets you customize numerous container characteristics to meet your business’ specifications. “There are so many types of scrap applications and so many different types of yards … that it’s important to have the right style container,” the Ohio-based supplier’s sales rep says. Customization covers everything from choosing between “a tub style [or] rectangular, more yardage, thicker walls and floors. Everything is completely customizable within a roll-off container,” he says. Customization does bump up the cost, so the final price tag of a roll-off container can vary widely, from about $2,000 to $10,000.
Cameras mounted over the box have become a popular add-on within the past few years. “You can see what’s being loaded and what’s going on within the container,” this Ohio sales rep says. Scrapyards use cameras to cut down on fraud and contaminated material, as well as to catch thieves in the act. Another popular new add-on is a “GPS system inside your roll-off container so you can track it at all times,” he says. Tracking can increase logistics effi-ciencies, and “if you lose a container or there’s a theft, you
can monitor where it was and when,” he says.
Self-dumping hoppers are a staple at the scrapyards themselves, but they also can be transported to and from customers. They are a “perfect solution for sorting different materials” and can be “painted different colors to make sorting easier, therefore increasing productivity,” says another representative from the Ohio-based company. Alt-hough hopper design has not changed much in the past 10 to 15 years, “they’re heavy-duty and durable, so they can take immense beatings,” making them go-to equipment for most scrapyards, she says.
The steel-bodied hoppers, much smaller and more manageable than roll-off boxes, are generally designed with a ½- to 5-cubic-yard capacity. Like roll-off boxes, hoppers can be customized with items such as “drain plugs, crane pick-up eyes, lids, hopper retaining chain and brackets, and hopper floor locks. Those last two are big safety fea-tures,” she says.
Lugger boxes also are common in scrapyards and sometimes serve as an intermediary between roll-off boxes and self-dumping hoppers. They’re smaller than roll-offs—they range from 5 to 20 cubic yards in capacity—and therefore work well in smaller spaces, yet they are of similar construction. A main difference is that the front and back walls are angled to facilitate tipping and draining. Scrapyards have used luggers for more than 60 years, but these sellers report they’re slightly less common now, as more yards switch to roll-off boxes.
Although steel bins are the scrap industry gold standard, plastic is gaining traction for smaller bins, especially for storing materials. “We sell an awful lot of them,” says the Ohio-based rep. The HDPE bins are “highly impact-resistant yet lightweight,” plus, like steel, at their end of life “they’re fully recyclable,” she says. The internal volume is about 25 cubic feet, but the empty weight is only about 90 pounds, making them “very economical,” especially during transport. That feature is quite attractive right now because “freight cost has become a big issue,” she says. Plastic bulk bins cost about $200, compared with “steel bins, which [cost] anywhere from $200 to close to $2,000,” she says.
Manufacturers and suppliers emphasize the importance of discussing how you plan to use a container when you’re shopping for one. “We always ask what type of scrap material you’re putting in there—the size, the weight,” and so forth, to provide a product that’s heavy-duty enough to support the work, says the director of product development for a North Carolina–based manufacturer. “Then we want to know how it’s loaded—by hand or machine.” Using mobile equipment to load a container is likely to increase the wear and tear on the container opening. “It’s inevitable … you’re going to come into contact with the top rim of the container” with the machine, whether it’s a forklift, a grapple, or a front-end loader, “and you start denting it,” he says. Dents can lead to holes or deep scratches that remove paint and other coatings, allowing the container to rust or otherwise wear prematurely. “If they use a forklift to empty into one of our self-dumping hoppers … then we’ll reinforce the container on the top,” this manufacturer says. Although some such customizations increase the initial price tag, they make the products last longer and therefore provide a better return on investment, these sources say.
Cover it up
Containers move frequently from location to location, and federal law requires they be covered while on the road. Tarping systems are the preferred method to prevent material from flying out of moving containers. Manual systems are readily available, but automatic tarping systems have caught on due to greater efficiency and safety.
“I’ve always considered tarping systems to be a necessary evil. They’re a high-maintenance item” because of the wear and tear on the flexible tarp material, Coates says. In addition, “the really early versions didn’t work very well … but now they’re far more user-friendly,” he says. Sadoff has tried “numerous different tarp materials, and some are better than others, but none are immune to getting cut up from scrap metal,” he says.
Manufacturers say they’re continually improving tarp materials to make them stronger and more resilient while remaining flexible. The flexibility helps the tarp conform to an odd-shaped load, but it also comes with a major drawback. “When you’re driving down the road, air rushes over a tarp, just like an airplane wing, and gives it lift,” says the sales manager for a Michigan-based manufacturer. Tarp lift, as well as drag, are well-known problems the industry has yet to solve. “If somebody could design a tarp material that’s highly cut- and puncture-resistant, yet is flexible and doesn’t catch the wind,” they would essentially control the industry, Coates says.
The wind problem prompts manufacturers to develop tarps that minimize flapping. “What we use for the scrap industry … is a more breathable mesh,” the sales manager says. Most tarp manufacturers now use synthetic materials such as polypropylene, polyester, or PVC for greater product durability and UV resistance than the natural canvas fibers they likely originally used for tarps.
Tarping systems come in two versions: one that rolls out either front to back or side to side, and one that doesn’t roll out but lifts up and over the load. Vendors say roll-out tarping systems are more prone to tarp snags and tend to be heavier, but they provide more size adaptability because one tarp can fit a variety of container sizes. They also are easier and safer to operate in high winds or areas without much aerial clearance. Both systems get power from a connection to either the truck’s battery or its hydraulic system. “Most of the systems today are converting to electric over hydraulic,” says a Michigan-based supplier’s sales rep. They cost roughly $3,000 to $15,000 depending on the type, application, and installation needs.
Tarping hazards include pinch points and falls when workers climb on the container or trailer to secure the tarp. Manufacturers have worked to improve safety by adding features like LED lights to assist tarping in low-light oper-ations. The most frequently mentioned safety innovation, however, is remote-control operation. Rather than housing the controls directly on the tarper, behind the cab, modern tarping systems allow the truck driver to deploy a tarp with the touch of a button on a fob without leaving the cab. “Keeping the driver away is the safest thing you can do,” this representative says.
Even with increased wear resistance, the average tarp used on scrap containers only lasts a few weeks to a few months, depending on the level of damage it sustains daily. They cost $200 to $500 each, making them a lower-cost item to replace compared with other elements of an automatic tarping system. Arms wear out or break less frequently than tarps, but when they do, they require a time-intensive refurbishment or potentially costly replacement.
Keep a lid on It
Instead of securing loads during transportation, container lids primarily provide security and protection from rain. Greater attention to federal, state, and local stormwater requirements has increased demand for this product, and “it has proven to be our most popular item for about the last four years,” says the director of product development for the North Carolina equipment manufacturer. A secondary benefit of keeping scrap covered is preventing oxidation and material degradation. “The closer you get to a [coastal community], they’re even more popular because they prevent material from getting rusted inside the container,” says the vice president of an Illinois-based manufacturer.
Plastic lids typically fall into two categories: permanent or removable. A forklift can place and remove a removable container lid, which typically remains on site, with tarps serving as a substitute while the container is in transit. The permanent models affix to the container on a metal frame and can remain with the container while it’s being trans-ported. Some vendors offer a third option: a standalone lid mounted on a frame attached to a footing or concrete slab at the scrapyard or supplier’s yard. With that option, the lid stays in one spot, but workers can swap out the container.
A permanent lid system has “torsion springs and a support system; [employees] are able to pull [the lid] out and lift it in the air 90 degrees,” says the North Carolina manufacturer’s rep. “The lid itself weighs about 600 pounds, but it feels like 50 pounds when you pull it because it’s so simple to operate.” That makes it easy for one person to open and close the lid without any additional equipment.
Although scrapyards previously relied on tarps or metal lids to cover their containers on site, plastic now domi-nates the market. Steel lids rust and have sharper, more dangerous edges than plastic versions, manufacturers say. And tarps do not keep out rain, they tear easily, and they provide almost no security. That last feature is second only to stormwater control as the reason scrap facilities give for purchasing lids. Locking mechanisms make it harder for thieves “to get inside and take scrap,” says the Illinois company’s vice president. Especially with containers that get moved from location to location, permanent lids that lock “deter pilferage or anybody scavenging through the containers,” the North Carolina company’s director of product development says.
Users can adapt permanent lid frames to fit a variety of container sizes, and the lids require little maintenance other than occasional greasing of the fittings. Just as with the removable models, the plastic lid should have a lifespan of at least 10 years if it doesn’t sustain frequent abuse—these sellers say the lids easily can outlast the life of the containers. One way to get more life out of it is to “make sure not to overload the container. Lids are designed to sit flush on top of the container,” says the Illinois vice president. With their long life, numerous benefits, and prices of about $2,500 to $3,000 each, plastic lids add a lot of value to scrapyard operations, these sellers say.
Katie Pyzyk is a contributing writer for Scrap.
Sometimes, it’s what’s on the outside that counts. Containers, lids, and tarps are essential tools for storing, protecting, and transporting scrap materials. Improvements aim to provide greater safety, durability, and environmental compliance.