Facility minimizes environmental impact

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Schnitzer_Woodinville_Enviro_system_Page_3Two hundred years ago, the land next to Little Bear Creek was a verdant forest of Sitka spruce trees and sword ferns.

Populations of Chinook salmon and rainbow trout, along with a variety of different species of birds, thrived in the area.

Unfortunately, over time, this land was heavily degraded because it was used for commercial purposes.

The soil became polluted and wildlife decreased in alarming numbers, with salmon nearing extinction.

Today, however, it’s a different scene. And it’s due in part to the efforts of Schnitzer Steel.

One of the largest scrap companies in the country, the 105-year-old corporation owns 57 metals recycling plants, 50 auto parts facilities and one steel mill.

It is known for developing state-of-the-art techniques to enhance recovery of metallics, while minimizing environmental impacts.

Three years ago, Schnitzer purchased a 10-acre site abutting Little Bear Creek in Woodinville with the goal of constructing a modern metals recycling facility.

Initially, the company was informed that it would only be able to utilize two acres of the parcel because of the environmental setbacks.

But, after designing an innovative plan to develop the land that included remediating pre-existing soil contamination and protecting and restoring the fragile habitat, Snohomish County gave approval to the company to expand the footprint of its facility to five acres.

"We basically restored the wetlands next to the creek and built an innovative stormwater treatment system capable of cleaning all stormwater flowing from the property to minimize the facility’s impact on the environment," explains Louise Bray, a governmental and public affairs manager for Schnitzer Steel.

She adds, "We also had a team of habitat biologists remove non-native plants from the wetland area and replace them with 7,000 plantings of native species."

Bray notes that the goal was for the proliferation of native trees and shrubs to persuade wildlife to return to the area and to help cool the waters in the creek in an effort to encourage salmon reproduction and survival.

She notes that this is already occurring: "In fall of last year, salmon returned and other animals like beavers and deer have been seen here. As for the stormwater, all potential contaminants are being captured and removed and clean water is naturally flowing back into the groundwater that feeds the creek through a system that approaches natural hydrology."

She adds, "The environmental features of this site exceed regulatory requirements. And as a result, we have enhanced the quality of the stream."

The Woodinville facility recycles both ferrous and nonferrous metals.

Ferrous metals contain iron, whereas nonferrous are iron-free.

"Some of the ferrous items we get include things like washers, car bodies, chain link fences, pipes, desks and swing sets," explains Joan Hanlon, general manager at the site. "For the nonferrous, we get aluminum cans, copper wire and tubing, brass faucets, barbeque, siding, and so on."

She adds, "Here, the most common items are car batteries and aluminum cans, plus appliances such as washers and dryers."

The plant purchases the metals from commercial and industrial manufacturers, as well as from homeowners looking to dispose of their items.

They come from as far south as Renton to up north in Arlington. Once they arrive, the metals are crushed up and compacted by a baler and then they are taken to Schnitzer’s Tacoma plant, where they are shredded before being shipped overseas or sent to domestic mills.

About 70 percent are exported," interjects Bray. "Purchasers then melt the stuff and reuse it for their own purposes."

Hanlon, a rare female in a generally male-dominated industry, has been working in the field for 15 years. Her background is in steel fabrication.

"It was my family’s business," she says. "When it closed down, I went to work for Arrow down the street and then when Schnitzer acquired Arrow, I went to work for them."

Hanlon enjoys the industry because, in her opinion, it’s always interesting. She adds, "There’s never a dull day. There’s always something happening. And the place is full of activity and energy. I like what we do here. It serves a good purpose."

For information about recycling your metals at Schnitzer’s Woodinville metals recycling facility: (425) 481-1828 or


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