After decades of quietly providing environmentally responsible recycling solutions, my company’s expansion on Chicago’s Southeast Side has become a misplaced target of attacks, distortions and vitriol. I’d like to separate myth from reality.
General Iron is closing, not relocating.
My company, Reserve Management Group, operates 14 recycling facilities across 10 states. We first established our presence in Chicago’s 10th Ward in 1987. Over 20 years ago, we began consolidating our operations at our current location on 178 acres where steel mills once stood along the Calumet River.
Last year, RMG purchased the assets of General Iron with the knowledge that its long run on Chicago’s North Side was nearing an end. We believed then — and still believe now — that our property is the best location in Chicago to operate a new metal shredding business.
Almost nothing about our expanded facility resembles General Iron. Our new shredder will be enclosed and removed from public view. The new site is 2,500 feet from the nearest public right of way and five times more distant from the nearest homes as compared with General Iron. On top of its seclusion, the site is ideally situated for metals recycling in an underutilized planned manufacturing district that has excellent truck, rail and barge access.
Our expansion is guided by the longtime zoning of our land, the separation from our neighbors and the existence of necessary infrastructure. The racial, ethnic and income demographics of the East Side and other nearby neighborhoods played no role in our considerations. Our significant investment in this project will bring with it hundreds of construction and permanent jobs to our local community on the Southeast Side.
We are a recycler, not a toxic polluter.
The metals recycling industry has been dedicated to the responsible management of resources for its centuries-long history. RMG’s site is well-suited for this type of work, and our financial commitment to this project will ensure that the facility’s equipment, processes and controls will be among the most environmentally responsible operations in the region. What could be greener than managing end-of-life materials through a sustainable process that turns used metals into new products?
When recycling is not promoted and supported, valuable products end up in landfills. Useful metals are lost, and natural resources must be mined to replace them in manufacturing processes. Isn’t it best that those materials be processed at a modern, expansive facility operating an enclosed shredder with the most technologically advanced filtration, water treatment and pollution control equipment?
RMG has followed all proper processes to execute this project.
In September 2019, RMG reached a written agreement with the City of Chicago to close General Iron at the end of 2020. This agreement was publicly disclosed upon its completion.
Once the agreement was finalized, we began applying for and obtaining the necessary permits to construct and operate our new business. The Chicago Department of Public Health recently adopted stringent new rules for large recycling facilities and will soon review our permit application. That application will meet or exceed all applicable regulations and standards.
However, scrutiny of our business will not end upon issuance of permits. The city, together with the state and federal EPAs, will hold us accountable for abiding by our permit conditions. We expect and accept this oversight, as it ensures compliance and facilitates fair competition.
We have tried to allay environmental concerns by outlining the details of this project to interested parties on the Southeast Side. Unfortunately, when we met with community stakeholders and environmental groups in 2018, they rejected a follow-up meeting and told us that they would oppose our expansion no matter what. After 30 years in this business, it is baffling that I am now defending recycling to environmentalists.
Chicago has a laudable goal of being a green, sustainable city. RMG and companies like us play an important part by providing effective and responsible metals recycling. We will continue to hold the door open to neighborhood residents and organizations to have a fact- and science-based dialogue regarding our project. We’ve been made a target, but we are not the enemy.
Steve Joseph is the CEO of Reserve Management Group.