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In Georgia, it’s generally assumed that jarti (scrap metal) collectors are simply called when people wish to get rid of their Soviet-era refrigerators, stoves, and other outdated pieces that carry valuable metal in them. However, a closer look at the uneasy industry shows how Georgia’s present situation reflects in the piles of tin, copper, and brass.
Not far from Tbilisi’s Samgori Metro Station, lies a former ceramic factory now serving as a base for collecting, dismantling, and recycling scrap metal. There are two general categories of collectors — those who work in ‘black metal’, low-value iron, tin, and steel and ‘colour metals’, copper, brass, aluminium, and other non-magnetic metals.
While those in the first category usually have an agreement to sell their scrap to the Rustavi’s metallurgical plant, those dealing in ‘colour metals’ rarely find customers in Georgia.
‘There are simply no facilities for working with coloured metal in the country. The customers are all foreigners’, says Iura Beridze, who has worked in the industry for almost two decades.
He and his brother collect metal from the public, weigh it, pay for it based on the weight, and then dismantle it into pieces before taking it to larger bases for export.
‘We have a noble profession. We help the poor people who’ve got nothing else to sell’, Beridze says, as another customer walks out.
‘Our own profit is about ₾0.20–₾0.30 ($0.10) per kilo of material’.
Beridze checks the prices twice a week on the Forex stock exchange. The price for copper is now ₾12 ($4.40) per kilogramme, ₾8.5 ($3.10) for brass, while aluminium, the most common metal, goes for as low as ₾2.5 ($0.90) per kilogramme.
‘Usually we’re busier. People save their scrap for the New Year because they’re thinking — “if we sell it now, with what money will we celebrate the holidays?” ’, says Mamuka Nebulishvili, an iron dealer.
He says that generally there are less people now, since they're running out of the Soviet pieces at home.
Unlike the colour metal dealers, iron collectors have a fixed buyer — the Rustavi Metallurgical Factory.
‘We depend on the monopolists, so there’s not much room for change. Hopefully there will be another factory opened in Turkey now’ he says.
Mamuka’s makes around ₾55 ($20) in profit per tonne of mixed scrap metal he collects.
‘You have no idea how many families eat their bread with this’, says Amiran Memarne, the director of one of the bases that takes in refined metal from the collectors.
‘But it’s a hard business. Our clients buy metal for cheap — for example China and India — and we also lose a lot on excise taxes. Even though the prices are regulated by the London stock exchange, there have been several times when we didn’t make any profit or even lost money.’
One of the reasons, according to Amiran, is the black market — there are plenty of shops that are not traced anywhere. ‘All in all, it would be better for everyone if we had domestic recycling here in Georgia. The metal is leaking out of the country’.
In the same area, there’s a separate business for second-hand building materials — a dismantling team first goes to demolition sites and brings in pieces of walls, windows and metal. These are separated from each other and then sold to clients who wish to save money on building materials.
According to Avtandil Tavadze, the team's supervisor, even though second-hand, Soviet materials prove to be the better quality. ‘These were not made in Georgia. You won’t find alloys this tough now’. Most of the materials are sold to Azerbaijani clients from Gardabani.
This article was prepared with support from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Regional Office in the South Caucasus. All opinions expressed are the author’s alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of FES.