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A Closer Look E-mail the author

American Metals Company
Irwin Scheinbein • 480-834-1923

Irwin Scheinbein, president of American Metals Company in Arizona, described the company as “a full service scrap metal and steel service center facility.” The company covers a broad spectrum of the industry with no one particular area of specialization, and has all of the typical equipment – shredders, balers, shears, flatbeds, dump trailers and roll-offs.

The new steel he stocks includes sheets, strips, angles, rounds and more. He also stocks some aluminum shapes and can get other materials for customers at their request.

The business started in about 1957, according to Scheinbein, as Baseline Iron & Metal, and went through several purchases and name changes until it emerged as American Metals in the early 80s.

Three years ago, the facility was enlarged from four acres to five, and other improvements are in the works – including a new warehouse for new steel which will allow the nonferrous materials to move into the current new steel area.

The impetus for the remodel has been a growth in business and “doing this for the future,” Scheinbein said. The new layout is designed for “better handling of materials to get it through the facility.”

Scheinbein said that his father, Jack, had been in the scrap metal business in Georgetown since 1943, but then moved the family to Phoenix in 1959. “I was born into this industry,” Scheinbein said. As a youngster, he sorted colored tabulating cards because the white cards had a higher value.

He said that although he got his start in paper recycling, “my love affair is the metals end of the industry.”

Scheinbein’s father had planned on semi-retiring, but instead went back into the scrap business in 1963 as Valley Salvage. In 1965, Scheinbein’s brother joined his father’s business and Scheinbein followed in 1972.

Scheinbein said that although he loves the scrap industry, he gets frustrated with issues beyond his control, like metal theft and the resulting legislation. He said that many people think the metal thieves are out of work and desperate, but in reality there are a lot of organized metal theft rings. “This is a world-wide problem,” he said.

As part of the Arizona Scrap Recycling Association, Scheinbein spends time with legislators and law enforcement to “establish an understanding and a rapport.” He said that regulating the scrap industry was not the answer to the theft, and that the remedy must include all parties.

Scheinbein said that it would help deter the thefts if the prosecution was based on the amount of damage done during the theft. He said that in order to remove copper from a building, thieves will do thousands of dollars’ worth of damage to the property, tearing through drywall and damaging plumbing systems.

However, penalties are based on the value of material stolen. He said the local community, including churches and developers, have suffered losses of air conditioning units for the value of the scrap. The thieves dress in uniforms that look like they work for an air conditioning company so they can inspect the units during the day. They come back at night to finish the job.

In some instances, thieves take live electric wires – they have the equipment and the knowledge to do the job, but it leaves homes and businesses without power until the wires can be replaced.

It’s not just metal theft rings that he’s fighting, but also companies that buy aluminum cans at more than market price so they can transport the cans to other states that have deposit fees.

While those other states suffer the financial damage from those illegal transactions, Scheinbein said that customers don’t understand what’s going on. “The public thinks the legitimate scrap dealer is cheating them” since those legitimate companies are paying realistic prices for the cans.

Meanwhile, California has changed its rules for buying cans so that if someone is not representing a recycling center, they cannot sell large quantities of cans at one time. But the thieves find ways around the rules.

One answer would be to have a nationwide system for can recycling. “I think it would be better than what we have now,” Scheinbein said, “but with every system, there is a way to beat the system.”

Even with all the problems inherent in the business, Scheinbein enjoys what he does, and is proud of the reputation he has in the industry. But the best thing is “the satisfaction of getting material in as miscellaneous co-mingled, getting it through the facility, and getting it shipped to a consumer.”