A "scrappy" way to make a living

By Marc Strauss

A "scrappy" way to make a living

May 15, 2012 Updated May 16, 2012 at 1:31 PM CDT

PEORIA COUNTY, Ill. -- Did you know there's money in your garbage? Thanks to your generosity, there are people who make a living, selling what you throw out. They're called scrappers.

It's said that one man's trash is another man's treasure, and for Ben Garner it's much more, it's a living.

Ben said it's not about making the big bucks, "You're not going to get rich but I survive right now. I get by."

Garner is a scrapper, or what used to be known as a junker. He got started out of desperation, after going broke selling real estate. What he found was that the property people didn't want he could sell, so he began cruising neighborhoods picking up select items from their trash. Anything made of metal is especially valuable.

Garner talked about a recent find, "A cast iron bathtub, I just picked one up yesterday that they took out of an old house. They weight about 300 to 400 pounds and that brings you some money when it comes to cast."

In this case, the tub brought him about $40, and Garner said metals like copper and brass are pure gold to a scrapper. Ben doesn't drive the neighborhood routes anymore, he advertises and now has people calling him to haul away old appliances or nick nacks. He found this old Edison Amberola cleaning out somebody's barn and thinks it could bring up to $400.

Garner likened it to a sport for him, "It's like fishing to us. We get a thrill out of getting something big."

On this day though the fishing is just average. Ben's on his way to meet a client, Tim Callahan, the owner of a local home construction company. Garner's picking up metal duct work that Callahan's throwing out.

Callahan said, "Ben picks it up and saves me the time and labor and gas. You don't want to take a nice truck into the landfill and get a nail in your tire. It's just overall a better move."

It's not as simple as picking stuff up and cashing out at the salvage yard. There's bunch of junk Ben's got to do first to maximize his payday.

"You've got to know how to tear a washer down and tear it down so you get the copper, the wiring. And you've got to let that stuff set until you've got enough to take it in. If you just get in this business and do the garbage route, pick it up and take it right to the scrap yard without tearing it apart you're losing money," said Garner.

Garner said in a good year he can earn between $20 and $30,000. And while the money's not great he enjoys one big perk. He gets to be his own boss, and that's not exactly garbage.

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