Reserve Management Group (RMG), which last year purchased the assets of North Side metal recycler General Iron, is expanding its Southeast Side operations by building a new metal recycling facility to serve the region’s demand for processing end-of-life vehicles, appliances, and other discarded metal goods into reusable raw material.
With nearly a dozen affiliated companies operating 14 facilities in 10 states, RMG has established an environmentally responsible presence in Chicago’s 10th Ward for over 30 years. Since 1987, RMG companies have conducted metal and electronics recycling, stevedoring, and shipping operations, and they have owned the 178-acre repurposed brownfield at 116th Street and Avenue O, the site of former LTV and Republic steel mills, for approximately 20 years.
RMG purchased the assets of General Iron, knowing that the four-generation, family-owned Lincoln Park business was coming to an end after more than 100 years because of zoning and other changes. RMG saw that its expansive Southeast Side property offered the best location in the city to build and operate an entirely new metal shredding business, now known as Southside Recycling, to fill the void when General Iron is shuttered at the end of this year.
RMG obtained a zoning special use permit in March 2019 and, after a nine-month review, the Illinois EPA this past June granted a construction permit that holds the facility accountable for compliance with strict environmental conditions. A permit required by the City’s new Rules for Large Recycling Facilities will impose additional stringent standards. The operation will incorporate the best available technology for pollution controls and a water treatment plant. Despite COVID-related delays, design, excavation, foundation, and infrastructure work is well underway and the $80 million project is targeted for completion in the first quarter of next year.
Situated with excellent truck, rail, and water access in an underutilized Planned Manufacturing District, the shredder will be obscured from public view. It will be 2,500 feet from the nearest public right of way and five times more distant to the nearest residences than the current Lincoln Park facility. Extensive landscaping improvements will be installed on the property most visible to the community, across from Rowan Park and Washington High School.
This is why it is hard to believe that I, my company, and thousands of hard-working people in our industry are now forced to defend recycling in the City. It is hard to understand why environmentalists oppose responsible recycling. Do they prefer the alternative of vacant, absentee owners allowing “fly-dumping,” as has occurred for over three decades on the property immediately south of RMG? Responsible metal recycling is a critical component of solid waste management. It serves the community by keeping discarded autos, appliances, and demolition materials out of landfills, and it helps Chicago achieve its goal of being a green, sustainable city.
The current North Side facility recycles approximately 740,000 tons annually of obsolete metal products that require shredding, about the same quantity as all the garbage collected each year in the City of Chicago. No other recycling business in the area has the capacity or advanced pollution control equipment to handle the massive volume of metal recycling that the region demands.
RMG has pursued this project in a legal, responsible, and engaging manner. In August 2018, RMG held a meeting, coordinated by Ald. Susan Sadlowski Garza, with community stakeholders and environmental groups, including the Southeast Environmental Task Force, the Southeast Side Coalition to Ban Petcoke, and the Natural Resources Defense Council. An attempt to hold a follow-up meeting in early 2019 was rejected by the environmental groups. Lost in the din is the fact that this project does not involve harmful manganese and petcoke.
Much to the dismay of some Lincoln Park residents and elected officials, the North Side operation is operating in compliance with state and federal regulations. Yet, a vocal social media mob continues to spread lies and fear among North Side and Southeast Side residents alike to further their false narrative. For example, they posted a video claiming that it showed pollution spewing from over 500 feet away when, in fact, the video depicted water mist from a dust-suppressing water cannon. While IEPA inspections confirm compliance, the social media experts clamor about “toxic pollution.”
The North Side operation utilizes more pollution control equipment than any other shredding facility, not only in Chicago, but within a five-state region. This includes a $2 million regenerative thermal oxidizer, essentially a large oven that effectively burns and destroys in excess of 98 percent of volatile organic compound emissions from the shredder. The process results in clean water vapor being emitted from a wet scrubber stack ― again, not harmful pollution as social media critics claim. This summer, a proven new safety device was installed to detect and divert combustible gases and prevent explosions like the one that occurred in May.
I don’t know why people get to discard factual data from IEPA inspections in favor of their own inaccurate observations. Are they more experienced than the inspectors, or do they simply have ulterior motives driving their narrative?
As the City is about to review our permit application under its new rules, what will be left if it caves to the pressure of non-fact-based intimidation tactics by a social media mob that not only fails to acknowledge the law but also fails to accept science when it doesn’t fit their argument? So, if they don’t want a business that is properly operating within its rights, that business and its employees should lose all of their rights? That is nonsense. It is so interesting that Twitter comments suggest Southeast Side properties should be used for so many other things, irrespective of zoning and market dynamics that actually drive demand and economic viability.
Our current and future land use continues to revitalize a brownfield site. Metal recycling is not the dumping of garbage as it is falsely portrayed. It is an essential business that manages end-of-life goods through an environmentally responsible process that returns the metal to a form in which it can be re-melted and made into new products, while conserving energy and natural resources by saving the Earth from mining iron ore, bauxite, and other minerals.
RMG is the model of a company that the City of Chicago and its residents should support.
Hal Tolin is the Chief Operating Officer of RMG, the parent company that operates General Iron on Chicago’s North Side and of a separate business that is building a new metal recycling facility, to be known as Southside Recycling, on the city’s Southeast Side. He has been in the metal recycling business for 29 years.