Most of us think of recycling as a fairly recent development — and in terms of cans, bottles and paper being recycled by residential households — that may be true. But for heavy metals, the concept of recycling is anything but new.
Take the Philadelphia-based Morris Iron & Steel Company for example. Founded by Morris Greller in the early 1920s, it’s now a third-generation family business.
“Some people call it scrap processing, but that’s just another term for metal recycling, which is what we’ve been doing for more than 80 years,” said Stan Greller, president of Morris Iron & Steel.
“We’re very proud of the industry we’re in because if it weren’t for the scrap industry and the steel mills that use our recycled product, there wouldn’t be enough landfills in the world to hold what would have to be thrown away,” said Ron Greller, Morris Iron vice president.
“The steel in the average car has been recycled nine times. Think of all the cars on the road and multiply that number by nine, then put all those vehicles in a landfill. You can see how fast it would fill up.
“And it’s not just landfills,” he added. “If it weren’t for recycling, the amount of iron that would have to be mined would be many times higher, we’d run out of it faster, and the products we buy would cost much more.”
“For a long time, nobody really paid any attention to the scrap industry — they just sort of tolerated us,” Stan noted. “We weren’t recognized as being an economic benefit to the nation, but that’s exactly what we are. In fact, I think we’re very much of an economic necessity.”
Processing and Brokering
Morris Iron & Steel has two locations in Philadelphia, a 25-acre site on Milnor Street and a five-acre site at Third and Berks streets. The Grellers also are partners in Emert Recycling in Hatfield, PA.
In addition to those processing yards, Morris Iron & Steel also is a scrap brokerage operation, which means it buys scrap from other scrap dealers and resells it. The company, which owns approximately 15 trucks and 25 railroad cars to transport scrap, employs approximately 80 people. Roughly half are involved on the processing side of the business and half on the brokerage side.
As processors, Morris Iron & Steel buys ferrous (steel) and nonferrous (copper, brass aluminum) scrap from industrial plants, demolition contractors and peddlers. They separate the scrap material and sell it. As brokers, the company buys scrap from as many as 300 companies from Maine to Alabama to Detroit in order to supply three steel mills and 20 to 30 foundries along the East Coast and the Midwest.
“Our market for nonferrous metals is actually worldwide,” Stan noted. “We ship anywhere from two to 18 containers a day with most of them going to Asia right now.”
After graduating from college and serving a four-year stint in the military during World War II, Stan Greller joined his father Morris and his brother Sid full time in the scrap business. Sid retired a number of years back, but at age 85, Stan is still fully involved in the family business on a day-to-day basis.
“My cardiologist says it’s good for me,” said Stan. “Besides, what else am I going to do? This is my idea of fun.”
Stan’s son Ron came on board in 1973. Ron’s two daughters, Rebecca and Samantha, both currently work in the business and Samantha has expressed some interest in sticking around.
“I think we’d like that,” said Ron. “With a fourth generation, we’d pass the century mark as a family business, which would be quite an accomplishment.”
Beyond immediate blood relatives, the Grellers said the entire Morris Iron work force is like an extended family.
“Because we have very little employee turnover, we get to know the people who work here and they get to know us,” said Ron. “We believe our long-term employees make us more efficient than some other operations. They know what they’re doing, they know what needs to be done and they do it. The fact that most of our work force has been here a decade or more is a real plus for us.”
Mike Pallotti is vice president of domestic sales of Morris Iron and is the Grellers’ partner in Emert Recycling. Other key personnel include Charlie Kohlepp, yard foreman; Jim Maupay, mechanic; and Matthew Smith, operator.
The scrap industry is equipment-intensive, requiring rugged machines with both power and versatility. That’s why Morris Iron & Steel owns three Komatsu PC300 hydraulic excavators/material handlers with magnet attachments, a new PC400 excavator, two Komatsu WA320-5 wheel loaders, and a new LaBounty 3000 shear.
The material handlers help process material, as well as load trucks and railroad cars. The wheel loaders transport material around the yards.
“Because of advances in equipment, we’re able to process more material faster than we could in the past,” said Ron. “The hydraulic material handlers are much more productive, safer and easier to learn than the old cable cranes. We believe Komatsu makes a great product. It’s productive and reliable and really holds up well in the tough scrap environment.”
In addition to Komatsu equipment, Morris Iron also has turned to Midlantic Machinery and to Barry Talley, sales representative, for LaBounty shears.
“We think Komatsu equipment is topnotch, but equally important to us is the service we get and the trust we have in Barry and Midlantic,” said Ron. “Barry is very knowledgeable about equipment and what it can do and we’re confident that he and Midlantic will be there for us if we have any problems.”
Like Midlantic Machinery, Morris Iron prides itself, not only on the quality of its product, but also on the level of service it provides its customers.
“There’s a lot of competition in the scrap industry,” said Stan. “To stay on top of it, you’ve got to be lean and mean, which we are. At the same time, you’ve got to give your customers complete and perfect service, which we strive for at all times. Perfect service to us means delivering a good product, on time, every time and treating our customers honorably by always doing what we say we’re going to do.”
“An advantage for us is we’re a one-stop shop for our customers,” added Ron.
“We do ferrous, nonferrous and have the brokerage. The steel mills like that we’re not just a brokerage company with nothing but an office and a desk. We have the yards to back us up, so if some of our dealers fail to meet their commitments to us, we can still meet our commitment to the mill by shipping scrap out of our own yards. We always have an emergency supply of scrap set aside for that purpose and that separates us from most of our competition,” he said.
Despite the fact that a lot of manufacturing has gone overseas, the U.S. scrap market has picked up substantially in the past 25 years or so as steel mills gradually have switched from so-called “integrated mills” to electric furnaces. Integrated mills use a blast furnace and require primarily pig iron as their base metal. Electric furnaces, on the other hand, use scrap almost exclusively.
“The drawback to an electric-furnace mill is that it typically only makes one product, whereas an integrated mill can make many different products,” Stan noted.
“But the cost to build an integrated mill is three to four times greater and it costs more to operate. Because scrap has already had the impurities taken out, there’s no need for the blast furnace to clean it up. By skipping that step, they’re able to save a lot of time and money,” he said.
According to the Grellers, the past two years have been some of the best the scrap industry has ever known.
“Prices for scrap are high right now, so life is good,” said Ron. “But like everything, there are cycles. We’ve had plenty of hard years too. How long the current boom will last is anybody’s guess.”
Down the road, Morris Iron & Steel would like to have a couple more feeder yards in the Philadelphia area to help it better supply its customers.
“From that standpoint, I guess we’re looking at continued growth,” said Ron.
“But the main thing is to keep our reputation as a trustworthy and reliable supplier. We have a good management team and as long as we’re able to keep all our key people here, I think we’ll be able to keep up that same level of quality and service. If we can do that, the future should take care of itself,” he said.
(This story appears courtesy of “Midlantic Machinery News.”)