Lead recycling may not be on many sustainability professionals’ radar, but there is plenty of lead waiting to be reclaimed across the U.S. With about 9000 recreational shooting ranges across the U.S., there lies plenty of lead shot that is ripe for melting at a local smelter. Approximately 1.2 million metric tons of lead is recycled throughout the U.S. annually, but that number could be even higher with more awareness.
And while we learned over time that lead is not the wisest ingredient to put into paint, add to gasoline or us or as a metal for water pipes, lead still has a bevy of uses and dangers. Lead acid batteries are in high demand across the world, and lead bricks are still a common shielding material to contain radiation. Still relatively cheap compared to other commodities, the price of lead has doubled over the past decade. And much of the lead supply in the U.S. is sitting atop of soil at shooting ranges across the country. One company that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Joe Taschler profiled in western Wisconsin, however, has found success in recycling lead that would otherwise lie dormant at gun ranges.
Lead Us Reclaim, started by Gary Frase and Bill Moss, has found success working with shooting ranges that seek another revenue stream from spent lead. For these gun ranges, lead recycling has additional benefits: the reduced change of any soil contamination, the return of the grounds’ soil back to its original state and proof that the range practices environmental stewardship.
Frase and Moss developed a process that helps revert that spent shot into 100 percent pure lead. As Taschler’s article describes, First, a front-end loader, which looks like a massive piece of farm equipment, removes the first few inches of topsoil and dumps it into a hopper. That soil then moves into a screening machine that removes large particles of dirt. Lead Us Reclaim’s patented blower system then forces air into the stacks of lead shot and removes the smaller particles, a critical step because smelters will not accept loads contaminated with too much soil. The process is safe enough for employees who work within close range of the lead. And with metals fetching higher prices on world markets, the business has become more lucrative. At one shooting range, the 130,000 pounds of lead salvaged would have been worth over $100,000 on the London Metal Exchange.
Lead Us Reclaim is a small business and currently has only 10 employees. But as is the case with many of these entrepreneurs, Frase and Moss and their crew are finding plenty of cash in other’s trash. Business is growing, and with the company’s commitment to giving back 20 to 40 percent of its proceeds from lead recycling to the shooting range, more of them across the country have shown interest. One of the best stress releases around has become just a tad more sustainable, and it should be: like aluminum and steel, lead is almost 100 percent recyclable.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and covers sustainable architecture and design for Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo courtesy Lead Us Reclaim.