ONE MORNING LAST FALL, something gleamed amid the dented dryers and rusted Weber grills in the scrap-metal stall at Seattle’s North End transfer station: a thick, cross-braced plate of polished aluminum about seven feet square, weighing perhaps 300 to 400 pounds. Scattered around it were hollow girders of the same aluminum, up to seven feet long. A label on one read “Fold-a-Goal.” It was a soccer-goal assembly. A Seattle parks department truck had just dropped it off.

The aluminum would have fetched $200 as scrap, but the department leaves the task of recovering the value of recyclable metal to Solid Waste.

At 500 pounds and 40 cents a pound, that aluminum would have fetched $200 as scrap in early November 2009. But though the parks department is proud to, as spokesperson Dewey Potter puts it, “recycle everything,” it doesn’t try to recover the value of those recyclables: “We’re not set up to do that.” Parks leaves that to the city’s solid waste utility.

The utility, however, doesn’t separate out pricier metals such as aluminum; instead it received just 4.7 cents per pound—about the price for basic scrap iron—for all the mixed metals it collected in November. So those 500 pounds earned just $23.50 from the city’s scrap broker.

Solid Waste’s director, Timothy Croll, says it tried sorting out aluminum in 2007, but the amount recovered, 16 tons, didn’t justify the labor or hazard of rummaging through the pile.

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