From debris to finished steel: Giving recovered materials new life



For more than a century, Schnitzer Steel Industries, Inc. has been operating as a scrap-metal recycler, giving new life to old materials. Headquartered in Portland, they are one of three firms, along with Cherry City Metals and PNW Metal Recycling, contracted with the Debris Management Task Force (Task Force) to recycle metal debris from homesites damaged in the wildfires that devastated Oregon in 2020.

Steel is currently the most recycled commodity in the metals market. Cleanup crews have already recovered a significant amount of steel from vehicles and RVs, as well as other general household materials, which can be diverted from landfills and sent for recycling.

In this video, Schnitzer Steel Pacific Northwest Director of Regional Operations, Dan Prophater, explains how metals recovered from fire-damaged homesites are reused.

“We see ourselves as being full circle, that we take stuff that has come to its end of life one way or another. We’re able to turn it into something, melt it down, turn it into a new product that again is used for new construction, and gives it a second life and a third life and maybe even more.”

Once the materials arrive at the facility, the first step is to make sure that any and all dangerous materials are removed from the flow before being shredded or, for heavier materials, taken for further processing. It takes approximately 60 days from the time materials arrive at the facility, are processed and sent to the mill for melting before being turned into a new product.

To date, more than 560 burned vehicles have been removed from homesites, contributing to more than 5,400 tons of metals that have been recycled. The Task Force has received approximately $750,000 in proceeds from materials recycling. This money goes toward offsetting the costs of the statewide recovery cleanup efforts, including the costs to extract and haul the metal from Oregon homesites to processing facilities.

“We are really a part of Oregon,” said Prophater, “and we see being a part of Oregon as a big part of our business and we’re just glad that we can help out.”

Metals recycled to date by fire area (in tons):

  • Almeda Fire: 3369

  • Archie Creek/Thielson: 197

  • Beachie Creek/Lionshead Fire: 790

  • Echo Mountain Fire: 306

  • Holiday Farm Fire: 678

  • Riverside Fire: 100

TOTAL: 5440

Burned vehicles removed to date:

  • Almeda Fire: 264

  • Archie Creek/Thielson: 37

  • Beachie Creek/Lionshead Fire: 112

  • Echo Mountain Fire: 18

  • Holiday Farm Fire: 100

  • Riverside Fire: 38

TOTAL: 569

Wildfire waste and debris removal

The State of Oregon is working with federal, state and local partners to remove hazardous waste, and ash and debris from the 2020 Oregon wildfires safely, efficiently, and as quickly as possible. The Oregon Departments of Transportation, Environmental Quality and Emergency Management are leading the effort, with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency assistance.