In my conversations with businesses about what can and can’t be recycled, I often receive questions about copper; which is one of the most valuable metals on the planet.

Used in everything from electrical wiring (it is the best conductor of electricity outside of silver), to plumbing pipes, to everyday appliances such as television sets, printers, and air conditioning units, copper is a non-ferrous metal, meaning that it is not magnetic.

Copper’s value derives from the fact that, much like aluminum recycling (another non-ferrous metal), the copper recycling process saves between 85-90 percent of the energy needed to mine the earth for new copper ore.

The word “copper” comes from “Cyprus.” The Romans mined their copper from the island nation, with the metal being called “aes Cyprium” or “metal of Cyprus.” Over time this became simply cyprium, then coprum, and eventually the English spelling became copper.

According to the Copper Development Association, man’s use of copper dates back more than 10,000 years, with Neolithic man using copper as a substitute for stone around the year 8000 B.C. In Egypt at around 4000 B.C. copper was being heated and cast into molds, and 500 years later copper was being alloyed with tin to create bronze (and the beginning of the Bronze Age).

While our supply of copper is far from running out—scientists have estimated that the worldwide supply runs to 6.3 billion metric tons, of which humans have mined just 700 million tons—the aforementioned energy savings gained from recycling copper versus mining for copper ore ensure that copper remains one of the foremost recycled metals around the world.

So, what is the copper recycling process, and how can your business benefit by recycling your scrap copper instead of sending it to a landfill?

How to Separate Your Copper Recycling

While copper recycling is one of the most valuable metals at a scrap yard, copper diminishes over time, going from a golden-reddish color to dark brown and, if placed in constant contact with the elements, green, through the process of oxidation (this is what happened to the Statue of Liberty over the years).

This diminishing process means that when you’re sorting your copper recycling, it’s important to ensure that you sort your copper into grades, from highest to lowest quality, so to ensure you get the best price possible for your copper.

As we touched upon earlier, copper can be found in fairly obvious locations around your business locations, such as electrical wiring and pipes, as well as in appliances such as:

  • Television sets;
  • Printers;
  • Air conditioning units;
  • Conference phones;
  • Desktop and laptop computers, tablets, and cell phones;
  • Refrigerators;
  • Dehumidifiers.

Unlike electrical wiring and pipes, extracting the copper from electrical appliances can be a time-consuming process. If you are interested in finding out how Rubicon can work with your organization to provide you with a copper recycling solution (and other commodity metal recycling solutions) for your business, scroll down to the end of this article.

To help in the sorting process of your copper recycling at your local materials recovery facility (MRF), here are the main copper recycling grades, alongside a description of each:

Bare Bright Copper

The most valuable grade of all recycled copper, Bare Bright Copper gets its name from its appearance as a bright and bare (from a plastic wire coating) piece of copper wiring, typically no smaller than 16 gauge.

Sometimes referred to as Bright and Shiny Copper, Bare Bright Copper must be unalloyed (meaning it has not been mixed with another metal, such as tin or zinc, to form bronze, brass, and other alloyed metals), and it must be completely free from any forms of tarnish.

#1 Copper

The second most valuable grade of copper recycling, #1 Copper is similar to Bare Bright Copper in that it must be clean and unalloyed, but unlike Bare Bright Copper, clean copper tubing can be included in this grade. This copper tubing must be free of any paint, insulation, solder marks, and any other materials that take away from the quality of the copper itself.

For a piece of copper tubing to qualify as #1 Copper, it can contain minimal amounts of oxidation and corrosion.

#2 Copper

The third most valuable grade of copper recycling, #2 Copper is typically dirtier than the two grades above it, with paint, solder marks, and other miscellaneous imperfections to them, and oxidation levels may be higher than for #1 Copper.

There’s a good chance that this is the grade that the majority of the copper recycling in your business falls within. Unlike the two grades above it, copper ends and fittings are allowed in this grade.

#1 Insulated Wire

The fourth most valuable grade of copper recycling, #1 Insulated Wire includes any clean copper wires and cables that are 16 gauge or larger, and that are clean, unalloyed, and generally in good condition.

#1 Insulated Wire doesn’t need to have its insulation removed, though to do so would increase its grade to Bare Bright Copper, and therefore the price the copper can gather will also increase.

#2 Insulated Wire

The fifth most valuable grade of copper recycling, the #2 Insulated Wire grade allows for a miscellaneous mix of unalloyed copper wire coated in plastic insulation, with wires smaller than 16 gauge being allowed, in most cases.

Unlike the #1 Insulated Wire grade, copper falling under the #2 Insulated Wire grade can be coated with nickel, tin, and other metals, so long as the coating isn’t too extreme; a specification that it is decided by each individual copper recycling center.

Rubicon’s Copper Recycling Solution

At Rubicon, we help businesses large and small find appropriate recycling solutions for all of their waste streams in order to keep as much material out of landfills as possible, and live by our mission to end waste, in all of its forms.

We recognize that for many organizations, separating your copper recycling out into each of the above grades so to ensure you get maximum value from your copper is a time-consuming exercise. This is where we come in.

Our commodity metal recycling experts at Rubicon® can work with your organization to put a cost-effective copper recycling solution in place that will ensure you get the maximum value out of your scrap copper, while at the same keeping this precious material out of landfills.

If you have any questions, or you are interested in learning more about Rubicon’s copper recycling services, please contact us today.

Meredith Leahy is a Waste Diversion Manager at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.