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Disposing of metal junk responsibly?  RSS feed

 
Rob Irish
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Location: Estonia, Zone 5/6
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Hiya folks,

We're doing some cleaning up on our property, stuff left behind from previous owners, and found an area with no trees growing which must have been used in the past as a garbage tip. Under about 10-20cm of topsoil is loads of rusting metal sheets, pipes and old farming equipment.

We will pull this stuff up and clear this area, because we would like to grow trees there, but what we're not sure of is what to do about all this metal. From what I recall, rusting metal in the soil is not great as it encourages the breeding of bad pathogens, and hurts the soils ability to hold moisture.

So the question is, is there an ecologically friendly way of disposing of metal?

Cheers,
Rob
 
Michael Cox
Posts: 1659
Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Not sure about how you would ultimately dispose of it, but I have heard of using pigs to clear a similar area of junk. As they root around they disturb the heavy stuff and bring it to the top so it is easy to see and pick up. Saves a massive job of digging and turning the land by hand - probably more thorough too. Around here pigs rooting through the top soil dig up the flints, which you can collect and then clear the area for easier cultivation.

They would also nicely fertilise and prepare the area for your planting.
 
David Livingston
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Location: Anjou ,France
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Scrap metal round here= money

I would look into this if I was you

Also very old farm impliments can also be recycled

David
 
Miles Flansburg
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Sounds like some of the old farmers I know of in the midwestern US. They just go out and dig a hole and push all of thier old stuff into the hole. Kills me when I think of all of the cool old stuff that must be buried all over the place.
Do you have any junk dealers or recyclers in your area?
How about Graigslist adds.
 
Dale Hodgins
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The scrap yard is almost always the best spot for this stuff. It's probably mostly made of iron, which is good, although copper would be more profitable. I've dealt with hundreds of tons of scrap metal. Lead is usually the worst contaminant. Watch for old batteries and be careful to avoid breaking them. The plastic covering can become brittle over time. Use a watertight container for batteries and broken bits. If any have disintegrated, dispose of the surrounding soil. Galvanized steel is covered in zinc. Not a problem unless you burn it very hot.

Old equipment may contain crank case oil, gas, or transmission fluid. Handle with care.

When you're all done, a soil test would answer contamination questions.

There are various techniques from burning to growing mushrooms which can help in remediation of the site. If non edible crops are planned, then your main concern may be to avoid contamination of neighboring soil and ground water.

The scrap business is a magnet for people of low character. Be careful about who you invite to the property and check prices before you show up at a scrap yard. Millions are made by downgrading metals like copper and brass. Similar to the sort of skullduggery common to the diamond business.
 
Rob Irish
Posts: 225
Location: Estonia, Zone 5/6
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Thanks a lot everyone for the suggestions.

I hoped maybe there might be a magic solution for dissolving the metals into a non-toxic de-ionized state so that it could be just returned to the ground somewhere, or perhaps used sparingly as a fertiliser. We were having a chat last night here about how unthoughtful it is that we create things like metals, plastics and other chemicals without having any real responsible way of decomposing it.

Michael: the pigs idea is actually great. We do have wild boars roaming here digging up in the area which did already reveal some things - having some extra snouts to help dig up would help a lot. We think there might be a few tonnes of crap hiding under the ground.

Dale: I recall watching something by paul stamets for clearing up an old junk site with fungi. I will see what I can find - thanks for the tips about dangerous chemicals and junk yard folks.

Miles: The old farmers thing is exactly what has happened here, but it is from poor Soviet times in Estonia. I don't think there is much craigslist here There is a scrap yard not too far from here though.

David: I was wondering about the recycling. Even if just doing some sort of DIY recycling of the raw material ourselves. For example, I know you can make an electrolyte solution (water and bicarb soda), put some rusty metal in the solution connected to a small 12v charge, with the other end connected to a metal attractor and the rust will simply dissolve off the metal and onto the rod, leaving you with a nice rust free piece. I thought if something that simple can be done to remove rust, surely there must be a simple way to naturally reduce all the metal (and rust) into something usable. I'm guessing you need a smelt for that.

Otherwise, the old farming tools in the soil are so old that they are barely recognisable.

Thanks for all the ideas everyone.
 
Michael Cox
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Rob - I'd skip trying to process the metal yourself. You spend a lot of time, money and effort on it when you could just sell the scrap as is in it's current rusty mangled state. Scrap purchasers usually buy based on weight so cleaning it up too much is counter productive Rusty as it is it is better off going back into the recycling chain than anything you will come up with to dispose of it on your land.

Likewise, for trace contaminents in the soil - you could agonise over this and work out complex remediation plans, or you could just dig out some of the worst bits (eg the soil around old leaky batteries) then get on with growing stuff there. Real nasties will simply kill any plants in that spot - you could plant something as an indicator to tell where the damaged soil is?

If you are really worried about using this land for products for human consumption you could probably find another use for it? Shallow rooted pasture for grazing? Trees for fuelwood?
 
Rob Irish
Posts: 225
Location: Estonia, Zone 5/6
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Michael Cox wrote:Rob - I'd skip trying to process the metal yourself. [..] If you are really worried about using this land for products for human consumption you could probably find another use for it? Shallow rooted pasture for grazing? Trees for fuelwood?


Thanks for the tip Michael. Makes sense and sounds the easiest. Cheers
 
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