How To Recycle Scrap Metal

When it comes to scrap metal recycling, it can be hard to differentiate between the good information and the bad. Fortunately, Our Happy Planet is here to help answer some of the popular questions related to scrap metal recycling!

We’ll look at how you can dispose of metal waste and whether or not you need a license to scrap metal, how you can separate metals for recycling, what the benefits of recycling metal are, how to separate metals for recycling, and much more, including scrap metal recycling tips and the best scrap metal items.

Even better, as you know the lay of the land, you can figure out how best to scrap efficiently—and how to make good money scrapping!

How do you dispose of metal waste?

When it comes to disposing of metal waste, recycling is often the most eco-friendly option. In fact, when it comes to producing energy savings, recycling metals saves more energy than any other form of recycling. When compared to producing new materials, for instance, recycling aluminum, lead, and steel requires 94, 75, and 72 percent less energy, respectively.

Of course, determining the best way to dispose of your metal waste often depends on what type of metal you have and the quantities. In some cases that means recycling that material from home; in other instances, you might be best served by taking your metal waste to a scrap yard.

Start by identifying your recyclable metals. For instance, aluminum cans (such as used in soda, beer, and other beverages) are generally 100 percent recyclable. Many cities and states may have programs such as cash for cans which can make recycling aluminum cans much easier. Other food containers, such as coffee tins, bakeware, and cans (such as used for canned fruits and vegetables) are all recyclable; just make sure to clean them thoroughly first.

Similarly, if you have extra metal hangers around the house, they may not be recyclable in your local blue bin but you may be able to take them to a local dry cleaners, for instance; they may have discounts or cash programs for your extra hangers. Other household items made of brass, copper, or other metals may also be recyclable; while they may not be items you can put in your blue recyclables bin, they are items you may be able to take to a local scrap yard—including old door handles, light fixtures, and more. Even air conditioners, television trays, plumbing, gutters, and other metal odds-and-ends around the house can often be scrapped.

 

10 Scrap Metal Recycling Facts

  1. Recycling a single ton of steel saves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, over 1,000 pounds of coal, and 40 pounds of limestone.
  2. Steel is the most recycled material in the United States.
  3. Canned fruits and vegetables usually use steel cans; beverage cans, however, usually use aluminum cans.
  4. Aluminum cans not only require 90% less energy when recycled than in primary production, but the recycled products can be back on the shelves within 6 months. And, if for some reason they aren’t recycled, they break down in landfills far faster than plastic bottles, which may take 450 years or longer to decompose.
  5. Scrap metals can be used for construction projects, in creating transportation options such as bikes and cars.
  6. Scrap metal can also be melted at a much lower temperature than new metal, which is another way it contributes energy savings.
  7. Enough ferrous scrap is recycled each year by weight to build the Golden Gate Bridge more than 900 times over.
  8. A typical wind turbine contains up to 5 tons of copper, an average home 200 pounds or more, and a computer roughly 4 pounds.
  9. Scrap metal is a huge industry; in 2015, more than 130 million metric tons of material was recycled by scrap yards.
  10. In some states, aluminum cans can make you money. Bottle bills in 10 states mean cans can be returned for a deposit, usually 5 cents per can. That adds up quickly!

Do you need a license to scrap metal?

Scrap metal recycling can be a great way to make money. However, in some places and some instances, you may need a license. Let’s look at why a scrap metal license is needed.

First, sellers of scrap metal may need a business license as sellers—even if they aren’t selling very much. This is both to ensure that local municipalities can collect sales taxes and to help ensure that scrappers are legitimate, especially as copper cables have become a more common target for thieves. It’s a good idea to contact your local city hall or county auditor’s office to determine if you need a license.

If you’re working on a larger scale, such as a scrap metal dealer, you’ll almost certainly need a business license—but again, you’ll need to verify that with your local authorities. Similarly, if you are operating a recycling center or scrap yard that both buys and sells, you should look into both business licenses and a vendor’s license (for resaling) to ensure you’re complying with your local tax regulations.

Again, though, consult with your local authorities to determine what if any licenses you may need for your scrapping purposes.

Is it legal to collect scrap metal?

One of the most common questions regarding scrap metal recycling and the collection of scrap metal is whether or not it is legal. The short answer: It depends. The longer answer? Let’s dive in.

Like so many other industries, the scrap metal industry has plenty of gray legal areas. As theft of scrap metal materials have risen across the country (particularly when dealing with copper cable and other high-value items), so have laws arisen to help prevent those thefts.

As a result, it’s important that you keep the following pieces in mind:

  • If you are selling large quantities of copper wires or pipes, know that you will be viewed with some suspicion. If your vehicle makes it clear that you work in a business that has good reason to be collecting large quantities of those materials at a time (such as contracting or electrical work, for instance), that’s one thing, but otherwise, you may want paperwork.
  • The same is true for any copper, really. Because copper is such a high-value target for thieves, if you’ve come into large quantities of copper by reputable means, it’s good to have paperwork demonstrating that, even if it’s just a note from the homeowners that allowed you to collect it.
  • Air conditioner units pose problems, too. Air conditioners contain freon refrigerant. Scrap yards won’t accept air conditioner units that still contain freon. And dumping freon—something all too many people do is a toxic hazard and can garner a fine of thousands of dollars courtesy the EPA. As a result, sometimes the best bet is either to subcontract with a licensed HVAC contractor to have them drain the freon or even just sell the unit(s) to them for scrapping.
  • Auto parts can likewise create difficulties. While some parts (like the catalytic converter, for instance) can be valuable when scrapped, some states are now passing laws requiring you be an auto professional in order to sell scrap auto parts. Be sure to check the regulations in your area.

Ultimately, its up to you to know the regulations in your area. Do your homework, and be smart.

 

What are the benefits of recycling metal?

Of course, there’s more to recycling metal than just selling it as scrap. For instance, as we discussed earlier: When compared to producing new materials, for instance, recycling aluminum, lead, and steel requires 94, 75, and 72 percent less energy, respectively. And the list of things that can be recycled is nearly endless!

Among other metal objects, the following are great items to consider recycling: cans (aluminum and steel), silverware, old pots and pans, appliances, desks and chairs, school and sport lockers, zippers, pipes, cables, and more. And the energy savings add up even quicker than you might think. Recycling a single aluminum can, for instance, can save enough energy to run a TV for three hours—an especially stunning piece of information when you consider that the amount of aluminum thrown away each year just in the United States would be enough to rebuild the entire commercial air fleet four times over!

Nor are the metals we use everyday limitless. Metals can be extremely energy-dependent to develop and produce, whereas as recycling old metal requires just a fraction of that energy expenditure. Without recycled metal, many of our daily metal uses—including trips to school or work by bus or car, for instance—might not be affordable.

All of that is in addition to the benefit of potentially making yourself some money by scrapping money if you know what you’re doing, too!

How do you separate metals for recycling?

Of course, most scrap yards and recycling centers are going to require you separate out the metals. One place to start is by using a magnet (no, really!). If a magnet sticks to the metal, that means the metal is ferrous. If it doesn’t stick, that means the metal is nonferrous. Ferrous metals include steel and iron; nonferrous metals include copper, aluminum, and brass.

And it just so happens that all of those metals can be valuable for scrap yards and recycling centers. From there, things depend on your local scrap yards recycling centers. A few pointers, though, may help:

  • Clean your metals. For food items, make sure that you’ve washed out the cans, etc, thoroughly. Remove labels as well. Clean metals will often get you more money, as that saves the scrap yard an extra bit of labor on their end.
  • Ensure that you don’t have other materials with your scrap metals. If, for instance, you have paper or cardboard recyclable materials in with your metals, that can sometimes lead to the entire pile being rejected.
  • Check local guidelines and scrap yard prices. Aluminum, brass, and copper are often worth a rate that can add up quickly at a scrap yard, but sometimes other metals may not be worth the effort of scrapping, in which case you should recycle as able.
  • Recycle your wiring. And while copper wiring, for instance, doesn’t have to be stripped, stripping wires before taking them to a scrap yard will often make you two or three times more money. Wire strippers can cost anywhere between $10 and $100, but are often worth the investment if you’re going to be scrapping a significant amount of wiring.

Can I sell scrap metal?

Yes! And in some cases, you definitely should. 

Of course, determining which scrap metal to sell will depend a great deal on your individual circumstances. Different scrap yards offer different prices, so be sure to call multiple yards, get prices for each of the metals you have, and confirm how long the yard will honor those quoted prices. It’s also important that you are specific about the quantities you have of each metal.

The truth is, most scrap metal yards are most accustomed to dealing with customers in industries that handle large quantities of metals on a daily or near-daily basis, such as construction or renovation companies. That doesn’t, of course, mean that you aren’t welcome—just that you may have to do your research and know what questions to ask in order to find the best prices. The truth is, many scrap yards will happily buy your scrap—and by bringing your metal scrap to scrap yards you can both make money and keep metal out of landfills.

Additionally, some scrap yards will offer pick-up services. If that’s something you are interested in, include that when asking for quotes and include that in your calculations when determining which yards to sell what.

Scrap metal recycling near me

No matter where you live, odds are good that there are places to scrap metal near you. And there are good ways to find those scrap yards; iScrap, for instance, is an app and online directory where you can find nearby scrap yards.

Scrap metal recycling tips

Hopefully all of this information so far is helping you determine the best ways to recycle and scrap metal.

Similarly, consider these scrap metal recycling tips:

  • Check metal prices online. Some metals are more worth trying to scrap than others, so do your due diligence even before sorting.
  • Nearly all metals are recyclables—but not in all places. Again, do your due diligence to determine what can be recycled or scrapped in your area. Different places have different recycling capabilities.

Consider the tips below in determining how to best prioritize your scrap metal recycling.

  1. Determine whether or not your metal is ferrous or non-ferrous. Do this by testing it with a magnet: If a magnet sticks to your metal, it’s ferrous. If it doesn’t stick, it’s non-ferrous.
  2. Ferrous metals include steel and iron. Ferrous metals are generally worth less, but most scrap yards will still accept it and make sure it is recycled appropriately.
  3. Non-ferrous metals include aluminum, brass, bronze, copper, and stainless steel. Many of these metals are quite valuable, actually, provided you have a scrap yard that wants them and you follow their guidelines.
  4. Aluminum is most frequently found in soda cans, but can also be used in other places as well on account of how relatively cheap it is, including doors, window frames, gutters, siding. Scrap yards tend to buy aluminum in bulk, and though it isn’t worth much, it is worth something. Additionally, given that recycled aluminum requires 80 percent less energy, it’s definitely worth recycling.
  5. Brass is also common in household items, especially in hardware such as door handles, plumbing fixtures, light fixtures, and keys, for instance. Made of a mix of copper and zinc, brass can be one of your best scrap metals. While not always a great price, because it is heavy (dense), it adds up quickly.
  6. Copper is often find in air conditions, electrical wires, gutters, and plumbing. Because copper is extremely valuable to scrap yards, separating it out (and stripping wires) can sometimes earn you extra cash from scrap yards that appreciate the extra work you put in.
  7. Steel is as common as aluminum, and like aluminum, is rarely worth much unless you have a great deal of it. That said, it still can offer tremendous energy savings when recycled, so even if it may not make you much cash, it’s worth taking to a scrap yard or recycling facility.

 

Best scrap metal items

The best items to scrap for money

As you can see from above, the best items for scraping are copper and bronze. While copper is the best value (and finding old copper cables can actually be a decent way to make money, for instance), bronze adds up quickly on account of its density.

Beyond that, though, you can do much better the more you know and the better prepared you are. About that research: The more you do, the better you can negotiate the best prices for yourself. Not only can you call around and compare prices (as well as how long each yard will honor those prices), but the more you know what you have, the better you can evaluate if you’re getting fair market rates for those metals. For instance, #1 copper is worth significantly more than #2 copper, but if you don’t know the difference—or what you have—a scrap yard is far more likely to offer you the lower #2 copper price.

Similarly, the bigger the load you can bring to the scrap yard, the more likely it is you will be able to negotiate a good price. After all, the big businesses that the scrap yards work with most often negotiate their rates. You are more likely to have that power if you have a huge trailer full of aluminum, for instance, than a box full of cans.

Similarly, separate your metals appropriately. First sort out the ferrous from non-ferrous metals, and then sort more clearly from there. Sort your ferrous metals into tin, lead, steel, for instance, and your non-ferrous metals into aluminum, brass, copper, and gold. (And if you can sort more than that, such as separating out grades of copper, for instance, do.)

Along those same lines, call around. I know we’ve said it before, but calling around will help ensure you get the best price. And don’t just assume bigger scrap yards can give you better prices; sometimes the smaller yards are more willing to work for your business.

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