As Minneapolis cracks down, people who trawl for metal are widening their routes to the suburbs.
With all the ways to make a few dollars, this one was easy to overlook: a broken-down refrigerator sitting on a tidy lawn in Edina.
But the two men shuttling around in a white pickup truck all morning had a knack for noticing what most people miss, and one of them, Carlos Honaker, zeroed in on the little box. “Back up!” he urged the older man driving. “Back up!”
The city of Minneapolis’ increasing crackdown on scrappers — the sharp-eyed operators who trawl alleys and driveways collecting the junk the rest of us put outside and promptly forget — has pushed these two to scrounge for metal in the surrounding suburbs and draw on contacts at auto shops and industrial buildings to cart away their wares. They view their profession as an honorable service, whisking away what people don’t want and keeping the streets clear.
But the city insists that scrappers are stealing, cutting into revenues Minneapolis is entitled to for picking up the throwaways. So here they are, just outside the city limits.
“On your side?” asked Honaker’s boss, Jessie Anderson, the driver.
Anderson hesitated as he looked at the refrigerator tossed a few feet from the homeowner’s BMW, gauging its value. Scrappy’s Express in north Minneapolis might take it, right?
“That’s what I was thinking,” said Honaker.
“Well let’s try — flip it and see what’s going on.”
Honaker, the muscle of the operation, climbed out of the truck and looked closer, Anderson tagging behind. It had some copper and aluminum, they could see that much. About 150 pounds. They could take it back to Anderson’s storage unit and work on it.
Not much, but something.
Although Minneapolis has long dictated that recyclable materials set out for city collection may only be taken away by city crews, scrappers like Anderson, of north Minneapolis, have done it for years.
Now 72, he keeps scrapping to supplement his Social Security checks and provide for his two middle-school sons.
Both Anderson and Honaker have felonies on their records — Anderson, a decades-old crack possession conviction, Honaker, assault convictions for which he was released from prison in 2005 — that could have made it harder to get regular work. They enjoy the independence of this way of life, and it keeps them focused.
But as changes in people’s lifestyle and the economy have reduced the amount of scrap available, Minneapolis has found itself in a battle with scrappers to take what’s put outside.
Minneapolis’ revenues from contracted scrap yards have plummeted, falling to $27,000 in 2012 from $44,000 the year before. The tons of solid waste and recyclable materials have fallen every year since 2004.