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“Green” or not? ABC Recycling expands in Bellingham

Concerns from co-founder of Save the Waterfront towards proposed metal shredder

Located at 765 Marine Drive in Bellingham, Wash., the site for a proposed metal shredder is mostly vacant on Nov. 16, 2023. ABC Recycling promises state-of-the-art technology to mitigate potential noise and emissions from the shredder. // Photo by Hayden Knoedler

ABC Recycling has promised to follow Washington’s strict environmental regulations on their metal shredding operation and to be a good neighbor, but one local organization, Save the Waterfront, said the Canadian-based company has already lost the trust of Bellingham locals. 

Ever since the Whatcom County Council voted against a moratorium on Oct. 24, 2023 that would have halted the metal shredder’s construction at Marine Drive, co-founder of Save the Waterfront Scott Jones has shifted his focus from delaying or preventing its construction to mitigating potential emissions and pollution.

“Communities that have been near [metal shredders] are never the same. They have the highest rates of asthma. They have reduced property values. They have lawsuits to force the companies to do what the company promised to do in the first place but didn't,” Jones said.

Riley Sweeney, community relations and government affairs manager for ABC Recycling, said this worst-case scenario was used by critics of the metal shredder too often. The permitting process will take a year and will look at every facet of the operation to make sure the shredding facility is being a good neighbor, Sweeney added. The company’s regulators include the Northwest Clean Air Agency, the Department of Ecology and the State Environmental Policy Act.

The basic operation of the shredder, Sweeney explained, is that depolluted cars and post-consumer products like water tanks and dishwashers will be driven to the Marine Drive site where ferrous metals and any metal that contains iron will be separated from non-ferrous metals and plastics or foam, then shredded. The ferrous metals will go to steel mills in South Korea, India and Vietnam. The non-ferrous metals will be shipped by truck to domestic vendors. Non-metals will be sold to landfills locally to use as a cover to keep animals away. 

“We do not mess around with environmental law here in Washington state. And that's great because we're a recycling company. We're here to save the planet, not hurt it,” Sweeney said. 

Jones was not happy with Washington’s regulations of the non-metallic materials, and said he would continue to expect the worst-case scenario because environmental regulators serve a for-profit system that will turn hazardous waste into commodities.  

Jones also said the benefits of employment opportunities are not enough to justify the noise and vibrations that will disturb the neighborhoods and schools in Alderwood. The site for the proposed shredder is in an urban growth area, meaning that if the city were to expand, it would occur in those areas. 

Sweeney defended the location and promised a sound-attenuating enclosure around the shredder and to keep the vegetation barrier between their site and the nearby neighborhoods. Besides maintenance or repairs, the shredder would only operate during business hours, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

“Portland Concrete Company was there in 1903 before Bellingham was incorporated as a city,” Sweeney said. “This has been a spot for industry because it’s the right spot. It’s on a rail line. It’s on a federal trucking route.” 

The application process is underway and will go through a deliberate and robust process of evaluation before the local governments can communicate the full extent of the project and decide whether to accept the submittal, said Bellingham Planning and Community Development Director Blake Lyon.  

The City of Bellingham has been invited to attend and comment on the metal shredder proposal, but the application process is between Whatcom County and ABC Recycling. Lyon said the county will likely begin by defining the project’s scope, then ask if the potential environmental impacts can be mitigated to a point where they’re not significant and don’t have broader implications for the surrounding community.  

Sweeney said unionized labor has supported the proposed metal shredder project because they believe Bellingham needs to have industrial jobs. The jobs that are created whenever ABC Recycling loads a ship with their metals are union jobs and the shredder would likely increase the work opportunities at their waterfront location.

“A waterfront can't just be a place for tourism, it needs to be a working waterfront,” Sweeney said.

Once the shredder is operational, Sweeney said they will employ 12 to 15 local workers at a wage of $30 per hour, and once they have their post-shredding processes online, that will increase to 30 jobs at the site. The jobs won’t be unionized, but Sweeney said other ABC Recycling locations are unionized so they are open to employees choosing to go that direction.

“It's not an environmental story. If we were investing in our community and making metal that would build up our economies, that's one thing, but they're not. They're taking the profits and they're sending the metal elsewhere,” Jones said.

Lyon didn’t take a side in this debate but is supportive of local industry generally, citing the green component associated with increasing access to consumer goods at a local level. 

“[Local industry] allows us to be able to have a richness and diversity in job types and opportunities for our community to increase their education, to reside in a place of their choice, work in different industries across that spectrum, and with that diversity of land uses and industry types that allows us to weather economic trends,” Lyon said.

On Dec. 5, ABC Recycling will hold a neighborhood forum at the Squalicum Boathouse at 6:30 p.m., where they will share information about the proposed facility and the community can have their questions answered directly.

Hayden Knoedler

Hayden Knoedler (he/him) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. He is a third-year student at Western working to complete a minor in News/Editorial journalism to accommodate his Creative Writing major. In his free time, he enjoys taking photos and playing video games. You can reach him at 

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