So, the world has come down to a crashing halt. Nukes rain down from the sky, after the Cold War finally became a Hot War. Now, humanity is left with a wasteland.

After the big one, cities have been mostly abandoned to the dying and the (soon to be) mutants. Lets say you have a man living near a large city, named Bob. Bob decides that in order to get by, he’ll brave the muties and crazies to get any loot the city holds. Bob sells these scraps of to others, and starts a small company “Bob’s Scavenging Co.”. Bob eventually dies, and his son, Bob Jr., takes over the company.

How long would scavenging be economically feasible, considering that not much of what’s scavenged an be remade, and that over time things will break down?

  • Bobs Co. mostly Scavs off (Post apocalyptic slang for scavenging) metal scrap and stuff like that.

  • My story has a time frame of about 150 years.

  • The City they scavenge from is reasonably large, about San Francisco size.

  • Bob Co. supplies mostly locals, about 1,500 nearby folks

  • "Economically feasible" will require some more details about the post-apocalyptic economy. How many people is he supplying? Are you trying to figure out how long goods will remain useful for (e.g.gasoline will go bad in a couple of years), or how quickly the consumers will use it (e.g. all the toilet paper will be gone in 2 months)? Also complicating matters is the fact that most of this stuff is priceless, since there's no way for anyone to make it themselves. – Nuclear Wang Nov 12 at 20:44
  • @Nuclear Wang: No, I’m asking about how long it will be before scavenging all this stuff becomes to difficult to be profitable – Robert Paul Nov 12 at 20:51
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    @Nuclear Wang is right that it will depend on demand. Are they using the metals just to make hand tools? Or (electric) railways? Is there competition, i.e. other scavengers? How likely are they to develop blacksmithing, so they can reuse metals they already have? Is population growing? Or they are barely surviving? But generally, a large city contains thousands of tons of metal (building frames, bridges, cars, pipes, fences, HVAC, etc.) – Bald Bear Nov 12 at 20:56
  • @Bald Bear: Hand tools, armor, weapons. No, mutants scare away competition. They have blacksmithing, but its not good work. – Robert Paul Nov 12 at 20:58
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    Economically feasible depends on the rest of the economy. Is there plentiful food? If you scavenge this stuff, what can you trade it for? If everyone is starving and farming has failed or whatever, then scavenging isn't economically feasible at all, since you can't trade it for food to live on. If everyone who survives becomes Amish and rejects technology, your scavenged car parts aren't worth anything. Not enough information here. – kingledion Nov 12 at 22:22

The one man supplying 1,500 people with metals for medieval-level technology will probably get everybody a basic set of gear in ~10 years.

But the thing is, they will not stop at medieval technology. They will want solar panels and wind turbines, batteries and electric devices. They will want metal vehicles, pulled by horses if they cannot generate enough electric power. They will want firearms, with black powder once the modern powder runs out or expires.

Moroever, there might be trade with more distant lands. SF is on the water, so travel is easy. They can get fruit from the south, timber from the North, chemicals from up the in the mountains. All in exchange for metal and high tech from SF.

Easy answer: forever

We recycle scrap today. It's been going on for decades and decades and shows no end. A sizeable city (oh, let's say San Fransisco, population 884,363, since you're interested in it) would provide recyclable stuff for 1,500 people for centuries.

Why do I say this?

  • The population ratio is 590:1, meaning for everyone Bob's supplying, there's 590 people worth of stuff to recover.

  • The industrial base in San Fransisco is massive. There'd be enough reasonably easily recoverable metal (buildings, cars, factory equip, etc.) to last far into the future. And this isn't counting the possibility of a big freighter ship or military vessel that would supply metal forever.

  • Just the local metal scrapyard would supply you for years, if not a decade. And there's a lot more than just one in SF.

I could go on, but there's no need. Mutants are a problem, but resources are not. For all practical purposes for your story, if the major city is major like San Fransisco, the recyclables would go on forever.

What would a practical limit be?

Saturating your market. Like Bald Bear said. Eventually everyone has what they need. So, infinite supply, limited demand. Economic feasibility is in the black until you max the demand curve. Then it's in the red.

  • The issue with a massive ship, etc. or even the golden gate bridge is having the equipment needed to turn large structures into pieces that can be handled by a couple of folks with whatever mechanical help still exist or can be rigged (engine lift, block & tackle, etc) as well as the tools needed to make a big thing turn into a bunch of smaller things - TIG/MIG/Oxy/etc isn't gonna be common 150 years post-event – ivanivan Nov 13 at 3:48
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    @ivanivan, not at first, but how long would it take to scrounge a cutting torch and acetylene tank? The OP didn't specify how long after the apocalypse his story is taking place. Too long, and you're very right. Right after? Not that hard to find. – JBH Nov 13 at 5:56

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