Baler Supplement -- Adding It All Up: The Cost of Baling

Manpower, energy, wire and maintenance costs are all examples of the ongoing costs associated with running a baling operation.

July 27, 2001

There are numerous types of recyclable commodities, and many types of baler designs to process those materials effectively. What a recycler processes, and how much, will normally determine what type of baler is needed. Associated with each baler type is a matrix of energy costs, wire usage, manpower requirements and maintenance costs.


The cost of the baler itself can run anywhere between $5,000 for a low-end vertical baler to more than $1 million for a top-of-the-line ferrous baler. Shear/baler/loggers can even cost as much as $1.5 million.

Cost is typically an indication of capacity, as the less expensive balers are normally the ones with the lowest throughput capacity. Balers costing below $100,000 can be generally classified as low production balers. A mainstream high-production baler can cost between $100,000 and $750,000 or more depending on options.

Ferrous balers can cost between $180,000 to $1 million.

Support equipment for a successful baling operation includes conveyors, sorting equipment such as screens, trommels, magnets and eddy currents, and assorted forklifts, loaders and material handlers to effectively move the scrap.

Fluffers can be added for those processing paper to more evenly distribute the material in the baling chamber, thus providing denser bales.

Also, auto wire tie systems are offered. In fact, many high-capacity balers come equipped with these systems as a standard offering.

Other capital expenses can include two-way radios for better communication within the facility; walking floors for material movement; and adequate storage facilities.


Running a baler at full speed, eight hours a day or more, is a good thing. For one, it means that the recycling company is maximizing its equipment and moving material, and that ultimately means profits. On the down side, however, balers are heavy-duty machines that can use a great deal of electrical power.

Companies report that operating large balers that average about eight hours of operation per day can rack up an electrical bills of more than $20,000 annually.

Therefore, many manufacturers and recyclers want to know the rated electrical usage of the baler before buying so when the electric bill comes due it is not a shock. While baler design ultimately determines the overall energy costs, normally balers with larger horsepower motors will require more electricity to operate. Overall, the baler is typically the greatest consumer of electrical power in a recycling facility.

While most balers are powered by electricity, ferrous balers that are outside have the option of being either electrically or diesel powered. Most stationary ferrous balers are electrically powered, while the mobile versions are diesel.

Depending on baler usage, the operating cost to bale ferrous scrap can be between $10 to $20 a ton, according to John Sacco, president of Sierra International Machinery, Bakersfield, Calif. “With more volume, I have seen the cost even dip below $10 a ton.”

Sacco’s figures not only include energy and maintenance costs, but factor in manpower and other costs associated with baling ferrous materials. “Each situation is different and may add other variables,” he says.

Other manufacturers and end users contacted did not have exact energy usage figures. “In general terms, a single-ram baler that uses a pre-press flap system instead of shearing typically uses one-third of the electricity of a comparably sized two-ram or single-ram shear baler,” says Scott Jable, Midwest regional manager for Van Dyk Baler Corp., Stamford, Conn.


Ferrous baling is different from baling other commodities in many ways. One, wire or straps aren’t needed. Two, the bale size is unique. And three, the loading procedure usually requires a scrap handler (crane).

In addition, mobile ferrous balers incur other costs such as permits to travel outside the yard, and expenses for employees on the road. “A permit can cost about $50 to $200 depending on where and how far the baler is going,” says Mike Lewis, president of Lewis Salvage, Warsaw, Ind. “I also give my employees going out to the site a car, and normally have to transport a scrap handler on a flat bed.”

Lewis says he doesn’t perform any customized baling offsite, but instead purchases the scrap outright. “I may pay $35 a ton for the scrap, and it will probably cost me about $35 a ton to bale it, so my cost is $70 a ton.”

The $35 a ton to process the scrap includes everything, according to Lewis, including the man-hours, transportation, etc. Usually, Lewis will make arrangements to ship the completed bales directly from the site.

Lewis Salvage will not send it’s portable baler more than a few hours’ drive away. “We won’t send it to, let’s say, Ohio or somewhere else where we have to stay overnight,” says Lewis. “The employee expenses on the road just start adding up when you do that.”

As for the company’s stationary shear/baler, Lewis says it is electric powered. “Most stationary balers are electric powered because it keeps down noise, air pollution, etc.,” he says. The stationary baler is positioned so that when material arrives, the scrap handlers don’t have to cycle too long back and forth between scrap piles and the balers. “You want to keep that cycle time to a minimum,” says Lewis.


Beside energy costs, the other major expenditure of baling soft materials is wire. “The two most important costs to consider in baler operations are wire and power,” states Jim Jagou, vice president with Harris Waste Management Group Inc.

Single-ram extrusion balers use black annealed wire while two-ram balers use galvanized wire. Both types of wire will cost about the same.

A check with various wire suppliers indicates that the price of wire has not significantly changed since last year, although the suppliers would not put their fingers on a standard price. “There are so many variables in determining the final price,” says one wire supplier. “Not only do you have various gauges and types of wire, but there is a volume pricing scale, plus special arrangements with repeat customers. The price can vary for a 100-pound-weight bundle of baling wire from $35 to $100.”

Of the two most common types of wire used in baling, black annealed is more ductile (flexible), and thus is used widely for single-ram baling applications. Galvanized is stronger so it is used mainly for two-ram baling.

Other types of wire come pre-cut in strands for some single-ram closed door balers and for vertical balers. Usually these wires have to be manually treaded.

Another item to investigate is how the bales are actually tied. Is the loop secured on the side or top? There are pros and cons for each situation, and the buyer should be aware of those before purchasing.

Also, investigate how the auto-tie wire system works, if the baler is equipped with such a device, and ask for a history of maintenance.

Overall, wire usage is a major expense, and is sometimes cited as the biggest ongoing expense in baling. Wire usage bills can run in the tens of thousands annually for a single baler. One manufacturer quipped that in as little as five years the cost in wire can easily outpace the capital cost for the baler itself.


The cost of manpower is a subjective area due to the many variables involved, so it is hard to estimate a single, standard cost where operating a baler is concerned.

But some degree of automation is possible. “If you can feed the balers with a constant feed density they will both run automatically,” says Michael Lockman, president of Scanrec, Inc., Waco, Texas. Scanrec (formerly Presona, Inc.) is the North American Subsidiary of the Scanrec (Scandinavian Recycling), AB Group of Sweden.. “Most operations never achieve perfect feeding, and therefore, they require an operator if using a two-ram baler.”

As for maintenance, two-ram baler costs could be higher, according to some suppliers, because of the higher baling forces involved that eventually lead to increased wear and tear on machine components. “A two-ram requires re-lining of the chamber every 4,000 hours at a cost of $22,000 per re-line versus, a single-ram baler with a pre-press option which requires replacement of the bale tracks at a cost of $3,500 every 6,000 hours,” says Lockman.


One company, Great Lakes International Recycling, Roseville, Mich., is currently in the process of developing a matrix to determine manpower costs for sorting and baling separately. “We have found that sorting costs depend on the type and quality of the material, and vary significantly, while baling costs are significantly lower and less variable,” says Mike Redmond, project manager with the company. “We’ve also found that energy, wire and maintenance costs total approximately $5 per ton.”

“We perform all maintenance required for the hydraulic, electrical and mechanical systems in-house,” says Redmond. “We also have initiated a preventive maintenance program that includes nearly 100 weekly checks. Furthermore, the vendor visits annually to do further inspections and inform our maintenance personnel of methods to detect problems before they result in downtime.”

“In the end, buying a baler is all based on economics,” says Ron Winter, CEO of Raff Recycling International Inc., Cape May Court House, N.J. “Buy the baler that fits your needs. If you’re a small operation, buy a vertical or closed-door single ram. If you are bigger, then move up to a single-ram extrusion or two-ram model. You don’t want a large, expensive baler sitting around idling, but you don’t want to overload a smaller one, either.”

The author, a Recycling Today contributing editor, is a technical writer based in Parma, Ohio.