Recycled Metals Help Build Homes

xEvery day that Jim Barwick and Patrick Baldwin volunteer in the metals recycling program at Habitat Metro Denver is a good day. As they sort through donated appliances, lighting, trim, and other metal goods, they keep tons of material out of landfills – and create vital funding for Habitat programs.

The metals recycling program prevents about 30 tons of metal – mostly brass, aluminum, and copper – from going to landfills every year, shares DJ Hagerman, Director of Restore Operations. And last year, the sales of the metals generated $60,000 to build and repair Habitat homes across Metro Denver.

“It is great that we keep materials out of landfills, but it is also great that we generate some money for the cause,” shares Barwick.

The work is hard, but satisfying. Metals recycling volunteers pull brass trim from lighting fixtures and ceiling fans, tear aluminum from track lighting, and yank out copper wiring. They carefully take motors out of ceiling fans, which can weigh up to 20 pounds, to find the recyclable metals within. As the volunteers fish out metals, those pieces are collected and sold to recyclers to raise money for Habitat’s mission.

“It’s a satisfying program,’’ shares Baldwin. “We’re accomplishing something for the earth by keeping things out of landfills.”

Baldwin started volunteering with Habitat almost 18 years ago after he retired from work as a teletype repairman for the telephone company. He worked on the sales floor and the docks at the Wheat Ridge store, and was part of a Habitat “blitz” in Aurora where volunteers built five homes, top to bottom, in one week.

When he started to have trouble “swinging a hammer” because of a sore elbow, he switched to metals recycling and currently spends four days at the Littleton ReStore and one day at the Denver ReStore. “I spend most of my time taking brass from lighting fixtures, door knobs and ceiling fans,” he shares.

Barwick started volunteering when he retired as a civil engineer for the City and County of Denver in 2020. A friend knew that Barwick liked to take things apart and fix them, and suggested Habitat for Humanity. He volunteers on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Littleton ReStore. Barwick uses magnets to sort real brass from brass-colored metals. Sparks from a grinder help separate stainless steel from aluminum – stainless steel has bluish sparks while aluminum has yellowish sparks.

“People will cleanout grandpa’s garage and grandma’s attic and they’ll give us a box that’s kind of a grab bag of stuff,” he shares. “We recycle about 70% of what we get, which is way better than throwing it all in a landfill. And it’s great when we make some money for the Habitat for Humanity mission. We are helping people get homes and we are helping the planet.”

The metals program has raised $263,442 since 2015, Hagerman shares. Unfortunately, not all metals that come into the ReStores can be sold. Some scrap metals have little value, including steel and iron. Those metals go into separate bins and are picked up by high-volume recycling companies that at least divert the material from landfills.

“Recycling unusable and unsalable metals that come into the ReStores is an incredibly valuable service these Core Volunteers provide,” shares Hagerman. “We’re so grateful to have such dedicated volunteers to run the metals recycling program, which aligns perfectly with our mission in the ReStores to keep things out of landfills, with the perk of bringing in some cash, too!”

Barwick and Baldwin both wish that there were recycling companies that paid for steel, iron, lead, and other metals that people bring to the ReStores. And, Barwick and Baldwin wish that there were more volunteers in metals recycling. There’s always more to do to break down items and find the recyclable gems within.
When Barwick tries to recruit more volunteer for the recycling metals program, he explains that some people pay to go to “Smash Rooms” or “Rage Rooms” to relieve stress by destroying items. “We get to do it for free,” shares Barwick.

Learn More about our Core Volunteer program

See the Metals Recycling Volunteer job description