The Newtown Pentacle

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A visit to Sims Metal Management over in LIC.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

All summer long, one has a tendency to lead walking tours of the neighborhoods surrounding the fabulous Newtown Creek. There are boat tours too, but these walking and boat excursions are generally public facing tours that visit public places. My job is to provide historic context for wherever we happen to be, and describe the various issues each particular area is facing. There’s one spot along the Newtown Creek, however, which I only bring college or graduate student groups to. That’s Sims Metal, in Long Island City, and I brought a college group there last Saturday.

There’s a million reasons for this restriction, and number one is not wearing out my welcome.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Number two revolves around the very busy schedule of this waterfront business. Luckily, Sims and its management are anxious to spread the word about their recycling operations. Their Sunset Park facility was actually purpose built with visitors in mind and they maintain an education center at that site. The Newtown Creek operation is different, and is a very busy industrial site.

When I can get a group in here, the entire operation pretty much shuts down in the name of safety. The working guys love it when they see me walking a group up the road, I think, as they get to take a coffee break.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Number three is a safety issue. Several of the times I’ve been here, just on my own – it’s been strictly hard hats and steel toe boots, gloves, glasses, the whole “working guy” uniform. With a largish group of students, this isn’t realistic, so the site manager tells his crew to take a break and then carefully guides us around the site’s edges and discusses the services which the company offers.

Those services include the receipt and initial sorting of the “MGP” (metal glass plastic) and cardboard/paper materials collected by the Department of Sanitation’s curbside recycling program, which is what’s going on in the first photo of this post. All of this municipal contract material will be barged out of the Creek and sent for finer levels of sorting and processing at the Sunset Park facility.

I got to visit the operation in Sunset Park last summer, and did two posts about it – “Noxious Mysteries” and “Unusually Worried“. The latter one details the actual process of sorting recyclable garbage, if you’re into that sort of thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The other side of Sims’ operations here at Newtown Creek revolves around commercial customers. If it’s made of metal and you’re disposing of it, Sims is one of the larger players in the recycling business. Materials like the mountain of rebar pictured above get shipped here by truck from upland sources, then are loaded onto barges and sent off to be processed at another Sims facility.

My understanding is that material like that rebar in the shot above will be sent off to Jersey City and fed into a shredder.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The “big show” at Sims on Newtown Creek always revolves around the stacks of automobiles and trucks which they process. All the fluids, batteries, and various onboard tanks have been removed from these vehicles before they get trucked in. The discarded or junked vehicles are trucked into Sims and then stacked for eventual placement on a barge. That barge will be escorted by a tugboat over to another Sims facility in New Jersey where they’ll be fed into a shredder.

I’m told that said shredder will reduce a car to metallic toothpicks in a few seconds, but no matter how many times I ask, the Sims people say it’s just too much of a safety risk to let me close enough to photograph that part of the process.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The academic group I was shepherding around last weekend were urban planning students from MIT, and were in town to study the industrial zone in Long Island City. I’ve also had Robin Nagle’s NYU class back here, as well as a group from a Dutch university who make an annual visit to Newtown Creek. We only ask Sims to open their gates to us for academic groups, as a note.

The mission of the Newtown Creek Alliance is to “reveal, restore, revitalize” Newtown Creek. Bringing student groups to Sims Metal is part of the “reveal” side of the job. You should see what my colleagues are up to on the “restore and revitalize” planks, which you’ll have ample opportunity to do this summer.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

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