July 20, 2024


Welcome to the Food

Add energy so junk becomes valuable | Opinion

Trent Loos

Recently I toured Nucor Nebraska Steel near Norfolk, Nebraska. I thought I had an appreciation for the scrap metal business but not until I actually laid eyes on the process did I fully grasp that the junk metal I deliver is such a huge value to life if you just add some heat to it.

The visuals experienced during this tour are what really drove this message home for me. There were train cars full of junk metal lined up at the plant where you can witness everything from tractor parts to a shopping cart to seriously unidentifiable objects. With the assistance of magnets, 110 tons of junk metal is dropped into an electronic arc-furnace and the heat was set at 3036 degrees Fahrenheit. The key message in this for me was the fact that you can take a pile of junk, apply the right amount of energy and create something of value.

Clearly I see a tremendous analogy behind what is needed in today’s world and I believe that “we the people” can supply enough energy that we can turn all the junk into something of essential value.

Once you actually dive in and learn about processes like this, much like the butchering process of livestock, you learn that everything is used but the squeal. At Nucor, even the dust is collected and sold to a further processor that retrieves the fine metals that otherwise may have escaped, such as zinc.

The amount of chemistry that was taking place in this cook house was extremely impressive. For example, all the key elements of the atmosphere are consistently being monitored such as carbon, nitrogen and oxygen. You might think this is just a big fire and a “smelting” of the stuff but instead this is a major chemistry project that is just extremely impressive.

All of this caused me to do a deep dive into the history of the scrap iron business. While recycling iron into valuable products is not a new concept, it took on a real life with the war effort of World War II. I found this article, “Iron Will: Scrapping History”

by Ronald H. Bailey, about southwest Kansas in 1942 very interesting:

“Every store, farm, and business in Comanche County shut down for the day on Friday, August 28, 1942. This was no traditional holiday for the people in this southwestern Kansas county. This was Scrap Harvest Day. All over the county people were scouring yards, farm fields, basements, and attics for every scrap of unused iron and steel that could be recycled into tanks, guns, shells, and other armaments. The local weekly newspaper, the Western Star, called it ‘the greatest demonstration of the people of this county uniting in a common cause that has ever been witnessed.’”

I find it to be most interesting that historians indicate that the amount of scouring the fields looking for scrap iron to help with the war effort did far more for the morale of the country than it did for the actual steel that was recycled. I am standing by my previous statement that we have a tremendous amount of junk in our way. If “we the people” put the right amount of energy behind the effort, we can turn all this country’s “junk” (political or otherwise) into something of great value for the next generation.

Editor’s note: The views expressed here are the author’s own and do not represent the views of High Plains Journal. Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.LoosTales.com, or email Trent at [email protected]