Empire Recycling officially turned 100 years old, an anniversary the family owned company marked with a party Wednesday night. But President Steven Kowalsky doesn’t think his great great uncle Robert, who started the company in 1916, under another name or any of his relatives who have run it in the decades since would recognize the business today.

“We’ve kind of reinvented ourselves. … It’s more a high-tech business today than it was in the past,” said Kowalsky, who runs the business with his brother Edward, the executive vice president. “We have certain processes that are more advanced technologically than they would ever dream of even 20 years ago. We handle different alloys of material that almost didn’t even exist 50 years ago, 40 years ago.”

With about 170 employees spread across nine divisions throughout New York, the company recycles everything “from A to Z, aluminum to zinc and everything in between,” Kowalsky said. That includes ferrous and non-ferrous metals, some plastics, papers and, in a separate division called Confidata, confidential papers, which the company shreds with a fleet of shred trucks. In total, the company takes in between 30 million and 40 million pounds of materials a month, Kowalsky said.

“Everything we get gets recycled here,” he said. “Everything gets remade into something new.” The company’s roots date before the word recycling came into common usage and even further back than the company’s founding a century ago. Based on a 1903 Utica newspaper article he received from a cousin last week, Kowalsky suspects his family were junk dealers since his great-great grandfather Max (Mordechai back in Poland) immigrated here in the 1880s.

The article is about the day Max picked up some scrap at Dudley House, a hotel. When he tried to separate a piece of brass and a piece of tin on one object, it exploded, wounding his leg and hurting his vision. Apparently, the object was some kind of dynamite cap, Kowalsky said.

In those days, junk dealers handled a lot of metal and rags, which were used to make paper until the 1960s. “The reason they stopped doing that was because of all the synthetic that came into play, like rayon and Dacron,” Kowalsky said. “They couldn’t do it anymore.”

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