End of an era in scrap metal

PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE: Brent Colbert, left, wishes good luck to the new owner of Gisborne Metal Recyclers, Rob Ofsoski, after the sale that ended 47 years of ownership by the Colbert family. Pictures by Paul Rickard
Brent with father Brian, who started the family business in 1972.

After nearly half-a-century in Gisborne’s recycling industry, the Colbert family has called it quits.

Brent and wife Leanne Colbert, and Brent’s older brother Steve — the proprietors of Gisborne Metal Recyclers — have sold the business previously owned by the boys’ parents Brian and Judy.

Brian bought an existing business known as Gisborne Bottle Exchange in 1972.

He was talked into it by his brother-in-law and never wanted to do anything since.

“We thought about trying to make it through to 50 years,’’ said Brent.

“But that kind man came along,’’ he said of new owner Rob Ofsoski, whose family has been in the industry since 1930.

The original Gisborne Metal Recyclers was at 40 Disraeli Street, which is now occupied by retirement villas.

“The business was all about glass in those days,’’ said Brent.

Brent, a former Poverty Bay-East Coast golf representative, and Steve (Teddy), a local surfing personality and former national junior champion, have fond memories of that era.

“We broke glass,’’ said Brent. “There were huge glass bins out the back. We used to walk into them in barefeet or jandals, get the bottles out and smash them against the wall.”

Other youthful escapades included getting forklifts stuck.

“That was our apprenticeship when it was a bottle business.

“Dad would drive his truck up the Coast — it was a day trip to Tititiki — and load up his truck, or go out to Whatatutu and all those places where they drank large bottles of beer back in the day.”

It was an era when glass soft drink bottles provided plenty of work.

The business later moved two doors down to a larger site.

Around 1980/1981 the business moved to Grey Street. Brent started working there in 1989 and Steve two years later.

Brian did a lot of scrap dealing with Rob, who knew him and Judy from attending conferences of the Scrap Metal Recycling Association of New Zealand.

Rob said he started coming to Gisborne in the late 1970s but didn’t start buying scrap off Brian until he moved to Grey Street.

Brent said his father was a jack of all trades.

“He sold bags of coal in winter. He went through a couple of years of selling Curly Top and Sport soft drinks just to keep the business going.”

That all stopped with the advent of plastic bottles.

The bottle part of the business came to a halt about five years ago with the introduction of waste management and kerbside recycling.

‘‘That was probably a good thing,’’ said Rob.

The downturn in rail also affected the business.

“We were losing our ability to transport scrap out of town,” said Brent.

When rail sidings and gantries were removed, Weatherell Transport, using a sidelifter, was hired to get scrap to the rail yard.

That fell over when the Gisborne to Napier rail line closed.

“There were no containers of ours going out of town, but we diversified and found different ways to get the product out.’’

The name of the business was changed to Gisborne Metal Recyclers, in 2016 ‘‘when we bought the property from the olds’’.

While the Colbert men did the hard yards physically, Brian, in replying to a questionnaire from the recycling association, said the keys to success in the industry were hard work . . . and ‘‘a good woman or wife”.

A memory that stayed with Brent was the day a supposedly empty gas bottle leaked, resulting in staff being taken to hospital to be decontaminated.

“We were on the way back (to the yard), still in our hospital gowns (carrying their clothes) when we were told to get out and walk to work because there was another emergency.”

The business will shortly change name to Metalco Recyclers, as Rob owns purpose-built recycling plants operating under that name in Hamilton, Tauranga, Palmerston North and Te Puke.

He has more than 40 years’ experience of owning and operating import/export and scrap metal processing businesses.

His father worked in the industry and his grandfather started the family tradition, opening his business just after the 1929 stock market crash.

Rob has new ideas for his Gisborne business.

“We will probably handle more cars and whiteware — all the problem stuff.’’

Gisborne, like other Metalco sites, will service the company’s shredder in Te Puke.

“It shreds cars, it shreds everything.”

A baling press will make cars, iron and whiteware suitable for transport to Te Puke while a state-of-the-art depollution machine will remove fluids such as brake fluid, petrol and diesel.

“We are trying to be different,” Rob said. “It’s an investment but it solves a problem in Gisborne.”

“And it helps the council out,’’ said Brent.

The Colberts have no career or business plans in the immediate future.

For Brent, the immediate future is a ‘‘boys’ trip’’ around the South Island with motorbike friends.

After nearly half-a-century in Gisborne’s recycling industry, the Colbert family has called it quits.

Brent and wife Leanne Colbert, and Brent’s older brother Steve — the proprietors of Gisborne Metal Recyclers — have sold the business previously owned by the boys’ parents Brian and Judy.

Brian bought an existing business known as Gisborne Bottle Exchange in 1972.

He was talked into it by his brother-in-law and never wanted to do anything since.

“We thought about trying to make it through to 50 years,’’ said Brent.

“But that kind man came along,’’ he said of new owner Rob Ofsoski, whose family has been in the industry since 1930.

The original Gisborne Metal Recyclers was at 40 Disraeli Street, which is now occupied by retirement villas.

“The business was all about glass in those days,’’ said Brent.

Brent, a former Poverty Bay-East Coast golf representative, and Steve (Teddy), a local surfing personality and former national junior champion, have fond memories of that era.

“We broke glass,’’ said Brent. “There were huge glass bins out the back. We used to walk into them in barefeet or jandals, get the bottles out and smash them against the wall.”

Other youthful escapades included getting forklifts stuck.

“That was our apprenticeship when it was a bottle business.

“Dad would drive his truck up the Coast — it was a day trip to Tititiki — and load up his truck, or go out to Whatatutu and all those places where they drank large bottles of beer back in the day.”

It was an era when glass soft drink bottles provided plenty of work.

The business later moved two doors down to a larger site.

Around 1980/1981 the business moved to Grey Street. Brent started working there in 1989 and Steve two years later.

Brian did a lot of scrap dealing with Rob, who knew him and Judy from attending conferences of the Scrap Metal Recycling Association of New Zealand.

Rob said he started coming to Gisborne in the late 1970s but didn’t start buying scrap off Brian until he moved to Grey Street.

Brent said his father was a jack of all trades.

“He sold bags of coal in winter. He went through a couple of years of selling Curly Top and Sport soft drinks just to keep the business going.”

That all stopped with the advent of plastic bottles.

The bottle part of the business came to a halt about five years ago with the introduction of waste management and kerbside recycling.

‘‘That was probably a good thing,’’ said Rob.

The downturn in rail also affected the business.

“We were losing our ability to transport scrap out of town,” said Brent.

When rail sidings and gantries were removed, Weatherell Transport, using a sidelifter, was hired to get scrap to the rail yard.

That fell over when the Gisborne to Napier rail line closed.

“There were no containers of ours going out of town, but we diversified and found different ways to get the product out.’’

The name of the business was changed to Gisborne Metal Recyclers, in 2016 ‘‘when we bought the property from the olds’’.

While the Colbert men did the hard yards physically, Brian, in replying to a questionnaire from the recycling association, said the keys to success in the industry were hard work . . . and ‘‘a good woman or wife”.

A memory that stayed with Brent was the day a supposedly empty gas bottle leaked, resulting in staff being taken to hospital to be decontaminated.

“We were on the way back (to the yard), still in our hospital gowns (carrying their clothes) when we were told to get out and walk to work because there was another emergency.”

The business will shortly change name to Metalco Recyclers, as Rob owns purpose-built recycling plants operating under that name in Hamilton, Tauranga, Palmerston North and Te Puke.

He has more than 40 years’ experience of owning and operating import/export and scrap metal processing businesses.

His father worked in the industry and his grandfather started the family tradition, opening his business just after the 1929 stock market crash.

Rob has new ideas for his Gisborne business.

“We will probably handle more cars and whiteware — all the problem stuff.’’

Gisborne, like other Metalco sites, will service the company’s shredder in Te Puke.

“It shreds cars, it shreds everything.”

A baling press will make cars, iron and whiteware suitable for transport to Te Puke while a state-of-the-art depollution machine will remove fluids such as brake fluid, petrol and diesel.

“We are trying to be different,” Rob said. “It’s an investment but it solves a problem in Gisborne.”

“And it helps the council out,’’ said Brent.

The Colberts have no career or business plans in the immediate future.

For Brent, the immediate future is a ‘‘boys’ trip’’ around the South Island with motorbike friends.

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