At the Forefront of Scrap Metal Recycling and Processing

Universal Scrap Metals

USM, Inc. is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois as one of North America’s largest wholesalers and processors of scrap metal and other materials. The company offers a wide range of scrap processing, management, and recycling services for many types of scrap including non-ferrous, ferrous, used beverage cans, high nickel alloys, electronics, spec copper processing and precious metal refining.
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USM was established in 1972 with a focus on buying and selling scrap metal from public retail and industrial peddler customers.
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“USM has mainly grown through strategic acquisition,” says USM CEO Jason Zeid. “Each company acquisition has brought specialized processes, talent, knowledge and relationships to allow USM to excel in many areas of recycling that others cannot.”

In 1997, two major acquisitions and a new partnership with Alcoa Recycling catapulted USM into significant growth that has continued ever since. Alcoa Recycling certified USM that year to begin processing used beverage cans. USM acquired the aluminum recycling division of Mandel Metals and Sloan Metal Company to best position itself to take advantage of this new niche. It then built a new division called USM Processing Ltd. dedicated to handling used aluminum beverage cans (UBCs).

The company has continued to grow with additional, purposefully-chosen acquisitions to improve its recycling capabilities and through extensive and continual expansions to its existing facilities. It has become one of the largest scrap processors and wholesalers in North America. Almost every year since 2011, USM has either acquired or started a new company, continually expanding the suite of services that it can provide to its many customers throughout the United States.

It is committed to providing its customers with the best quality service possible, and to fulfill this promise, the company has carefully curated a team of employees who are committed to the same goal. “We’re a midsized corporation, but we have a family culture,” says Director of Sales and Marketing David Lasky. “Everyone works together cohesively, and we’re all aligned toward a common goal.”

USM strives to become incrementally better every day, realizing that success is detailed and cumulative. “We work on a daily basis toward serving our customers through consistent improvement of process, infrastructure, and employee safety, health, and satisfaction.” With this mission in mind, USM maintains several key industry certifications making it one of the most highly certified scrap metal companies in North America. From the International Organization for Standardization the company has been awarded ISO 9001:2015, which certifies quality products, services, and management, and ISO 14001:2015 which certifies the company’s compliance with environmental standards and its commitment to continuous improvement in that area.

“USM’s main business is to recycle, which is good for the environment,” says Lasky. “We back this belief up not only through environmental certifications, but making sure we operate on clean land. Maintaining this commitment to the environment not only sets us apart from many of our competitors, but allows us to carry pollution insurance, which greatly reduces downstream environmental risk to our customers.”

For its dedication to workplace health and safety, the company has been granted the OHSAS18001 certification, demonstrating that the policies, procedures, and controls that the company has implemented represent industry established best practices. Further, the RIOS Certified Recycler designation is awarded to companies in the recycling industry for health and safety, as well as environmental impact considerations that are specifically related to the challenges facing companies operating in that space.

The company’s electronics scrap division, USMe, has a number of certifications related to electronics recycling. E-Stewards version 3 is a standard that defines best practices for recycling computers and other electronic devices as well as product destruction. As the company is a Member of NAID (National Association for Information Destruction), clients can be assured that for all electronic devices recycled, no sensitive information can be recovered from them. Finally, the ITAR recycling standard is a United States government certification, approving USM to conduct business with U.S. government facilities.

“The bar is set high on purpose and USM’s divisions are constantly being audited by a third party that we ask to come in and verify that we are operating above the bar,” says Zeid. “It constantly pushes everyone in the company for process improvement, safety improvement, and keeps everyone striving forward to be better. That’s a driver of our culture.”

The company’s breadth of expertise has been built through decades of experience, and today, the company has a collection of seven divisions, each managing a unique aspect of the business. USM, Inc. is the non-ferrous and ferrous metals division, processing aluminum, copper, steel, brass, and stainless materials. USM Processing is the used beverage can recycling division. USMe recycles electronic components. BLH Computers, a division of USMe and a Microsoft Certified Refurbisher, carries forward USM’s vision of vertical integration into the retail computer arena. USM Charter Alloys recycles stainless steel, high temperature alloys and superalloys. Masters & Alloy is the foundry for melting copper alloys and refining precious metals – once again fulfilling USM’s vision of vertical integration. Through these divisions, the company offers a full array of scrap recycling services to its customers.

The company’s most recent expansion is a state-of-the-art used beverage can processing facility in Riverdale, Illinois. The new system, which is a multilevel 40,000 square foot custom-engineered machine, is designed to shred, clean and process over 6 million pounds a month of aluminum cans.

USM is involved in several charitable endeavors. Currently, it is actively supporting over twenty charities by raising money, raising awareness, and participating in local, national, and international events. The company is very excited about its newest venture: Metals for Munchkins. Through this program, it will be selecting a different customer every month and donating on that company’s behalf to one of five children’s charities. It will bring a brightly decorated roll-off box to the customer’s location to collect recyclables for the month. A portion of the total proceeds will be given to whichever of the five preselected charities the customer chooses. The options include Clearbrook, which supports people with disabilities; JDRF, which raises money for diabetes research; Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, one of the top pediatric providers in the Midwest; Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants the wishes of children diagnosed with terminal illnesses; and St. Jude, a charity for cancer and other life-threatening illnesses in children.

USM has tactically structured itself for vertical integration. Much of the material that it recycles can be turned into sellable goods by its own people within its own facilities. “USM is the largest copper processing house in the Chicago area,” says Zeid. “We chop insulated wire into pure copper, analyze, sort and process into many different sizes and shapes depending on consumer’s needs. One of our spec copper consumers is Masters & Alloy, a wholly owned subsidiary of USM. Typically, a scrap metal dealer will sell their scrap to a mill or foundry to be melted. Through Masters & Alloy we take the scrap we recycle and put it back into the manufacturing process directly.”

The company’s electronic recycling facility is structured for vertical integration as well. BLH Computers, the company’s used computer refurbishing division, sends everything it is not able to repair or sell to other divisions of the company where these can be recycled. The base metals within them such as aluminum, copper, stainless, wire, and steel, can be sent to USM to be recycled, and the precious metals will be sent to the refinery to be reclaimed. “Usually a company that’s doing refurbishing or reselling or even selling electronics will sell to an outside company as e-scrap, but we have all the companies here so we have that vertical integration,” says Lasky.

USM goes beyond recycling by strategically joining manufacturers together. In 2015, Base Metals Group, a team of industry experts with over 150 years of experience, was formed. They have a vast, intimate knowledge of the manufacturing landscape and closely held long-term relationships. Base Metals Group is not only about creating the best recycling program, but making introductions and opening doors for their customers, which helps their businesses grow.

Zeid sums up the incredible activity of the last eight years of the company: “It has acquired five companies and started three new companies with industry experts at the helm, resulting in over a three hundred percent increase in business, making USM a leader in servicing manufacturers and processing of industrially produced scrap metal.”

After forty-seven years in the scrap recycling business, USM has built a highly successful operation with a broad spectrum of expertise and is poised for continued success.

Security as Culture

If you take a close look at all the many gadgets and electronic devices that fit into your daily life you’ll likely find that an exceedingly large number of them are made in China. This probably won’t surprise you, as offshore manufacturing has been a staple of the North American electronics market for almost fifty years. Beyond electronic gizmos, you’ll also find that toys, clothes, even some food products are being manufactured in low-cost foreign regions. This has been a prevailing reality for a very long time, but things are about to change.

Past Issues

November 22, 2019, 4:19 PM EST