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Guest commentary: Setting the record straight on metal recycling

ABC scrap operation 'part of Bellingham’s proud maritime tradition'

A pile of scrap metal stands tall at the ABC Recycling site on the waterfront along the Whatcom Waterway in 2023.
A pile of scrap metal stands tall at the ABC Recycling site on the waterfront along the Whatcom Waterway in 2023.
By Riley Sweeney, Guest Writer

As one of Bellingham’s most visible new businesses, our operations have inspired plenty of community conversation. While we welcome the interest, there is an unfortunate amount of misinformation circulating so it is time to set the record straight.

Here are six things you need to know about ABC Recycling in Bellingham.

Metal recycling is an essential part of confronting the climate crisis. Mining raw materials from the earth using dangerous practices like open pit mining accelerates the damage caused by climate change. Thanks to modern techniques like electric arc furnaces, we can recover metals and turn them into the building materials of tomorrow. Each ABC shipment from the Bellingham Shipping Terminal provides a reduction of 24,250 metric tons of carbon emissions, based on calculations by the Bureau of International Recyclers.

The metal awaiting shipment at the port is iron and steel. That’s it. It is not medical waste or radioactive material or garbage as some critics have alleged. It is the same materials you find in the bridges across the Nooksack River or in the utility boxes on Railroad Avenue, and it poses no greater risk to the environment than those installations.

Our facilities are part of taking responsibility for local materials. Today, about a quarter of the metal at our shipping facility comes from local metal recycling yards like Scrap-it, Z Recyclers, Northwest Recycling, and Skagit River Steel, and as we bring our proposed shredding facility online, that percentage will only grow.

Right now, when a Bellinghamster’s Subaru has finally died in the Trader Joe’s parking lot, it goes to one of Bellingham’s metal recycling yards to be de-polluted. That means it is drained of its fluids, the tires and any hazardous material like mercury switches are removed, and it is secured for transport. However, since the nearest shredder is in King County or Vancouver, British Columbia, it must travel. Bringing this part of the recycling cycle home reduces carbon emissions and takes responsibility for our community’s resources.

ABC Recycling is part of Bellingham’s proud maritime tradition as a working waterfront. Since time immemorial, the land next to Bellingham Bay has been vital to the people of the Salish Sea. These beaches were used by the Lummi Nation and Nooksack Indian Tribe for fishing and shellfish harvesting. In the early 1900s, piers were constructed, and our city became a thriving port. ABC’s staging area, located directly adjacent to the Bellingham Shipping Terminal, sits on the old Georgia Pacific site, which put food on the table for generations of residents.

Today, we provide family wage jobs for the 10 ABC employees and steady work for 60 members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU). At full buildout, our shredding facility will provide 30 full-time family wage jobs and will further increase employment at our shipping facility.

We operate thanks to the robust public process that culminated in the Waterfront District Sub-Area Plan. When the Port and the city acquired the GP site in 2005, they coordinated a series of public meetings to plan for the future of our waterfront. Thousands of community members shared their vision for how to balance the needs for recreation, tourism, industry, and commerce. This process included environmental reviews for various uses. The final product, the Waterfront District Sub-Area Plan, represents this shared vision for a vibrant, mixed-use waterfront.

The areas closest to downtown were reserved for land uses like shops, housing, and our beloved pump track. The Shipping Terminal was maintained for shipping, port and industrial opportunities. In the Log Pond (the land next to the Shipping Terminal), the preferred land use was for staging materials to be imported and exported. So, when ABC Recycling came looking for a facility that would allow us a staging ground for our shipping operations, the Shipping Terminal and adjacent lands fit the bill.

We are investing in Bellingham and strive to be good partners in the future of our city. Our shredding facility still must pass vigorous environmental review from our federal, state, and local regulators but we are confident in the quality of our proposal. We have a strong record of safety and environmental protection and believe in taking the appropriate steps to protect our new neighbors on Marine Drive.

Thanks to our excellent relationship with the ILWU, we have modified our ship loading schedule so we can stop by midnight to reduce the noise impacts on South Hill and will continue to make operational improvements to ensure that we are protecting Bellingham Bay.

For those who have watched the industrial area of our waterfront sit dormant for the last 20 years, it can be disorienting to see activity, but a thriving waterfront is a key part of Bellingham’s past, present, and future, and we look forward to being part of Bellingham’s future for years to come.

Riley Sweeney is Community Relations and Government Affairs Manager for ABC Recycling, Bellingham.

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