We exist in a world forged in metal. The buildings we live and work in are made of metal. The cars we drive are metal, and many of our appliances are metal, too.
Metal has played a significant role in shaping our world, but it has also added to a growing modern problem: waste.
Don’t let the name fool you: scrap metal is anything but useless. Landfills are full of scrap metal that could have otherwise been repurposed or reused. The wonderful thing about scrap metal is that we can recycle it over and over again without altering any of the properties that make metal so useful.
Whether you’re working with ferrous or non-ferrous materials, be sure to read this helpful primer before hauling your metal waste to the nearest scrap yard.
Benefits of Scrap Metal Recycling
Before we dig into how to recycle scrap metal, let’s take a quick look at why we should:
It Mitigates Mining
Mining is a global industry that employs millions of people worldwide and generates hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue every year. Completely eliminating mining would have devastating effects on the people who depend on it for their livelihood and the industries that rely on metals to operate.
Mining, however, can have adverse effects on human health and on the environment. The use of massive excavators, trucks, and other heavy equipment that run on fossil fuels can harm our ecosystems, causing deforestation, erosion, and contamination of plants, soil, and wetlands, as well as increased levels of noise, dust, and emissions.
With that said, mining is here to stay. We need it, but there are other, efficient alternatives, too. Scrap metal recycling dramatically reduces the need for invasive metal extraction. To use steel production as an example, when one ton of steel is recycled, roughly 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal, and 120 pounds of limestone are conserved.
It Conserves Energy
The entire metal production process—extracting raw materials, transporting them, processing and refining them—uses a massive amount of energy. In fact, 10 percent of all manufacturing energy use takes place during iron, steel, and aluminum production.
In an article for Forbes, recycling experts Pieterjan Van Uytvanck and Uday Patel calculated that it takes an average of 14,000 kWh of electricity to produce just one metric ton of aluminum. On the other hand, a ton of soda cans made with recycled aluminum saves an astonishing 21,000 kWh. Recycling aluminum saves 95 percent of the energy required to make the same amount of aluminum from its natural source.
Through recycling, the steel industry conserves enough energy to power more than 18 million homes a year.
The Economic Benefits
Scrap recycling isn’t just good for the environment; it supports our economy as well.
It may not be as large as mining, but the scrap recycling industry is still a major economic leader, providing more than 531,000 U.S. jobs, and generating approximately $109.78 billion in national economic activity every year.
In 2018, the industry recycled 138 million metric tons of materials, turning old discarded scraps into valuable materials for creating a variety of new products.
How to Recycle Scrap Metal
Depending on where you live, and if you’re a business or resident, there are a number of places to recycle scrap metal:
Unfortunately, most scrap metal cannot be collected in your standard curbside recycling bin. Recycling facilities use complex machines to sort and organize their products, devices easily damaged by the odd shapes and sharp edges common with scrap metal.
Luckily, there are options for recycling your scrap at home. Most communities have local junk removers and hauling companies that would be happy to collect your scrap for you. These companies have lots of experience hauling scrap safely and can save you a lot of time and energy.
The most common way to recycle scrap metal is on-site at a scrap yard.
Be sure to check the yard’s guidelines before hauling your scrap over. Some facilities require a minimum amount of weight before they’ll accept your scrap and appreciate it when you remove any non-metal parts before coming to the yard.
Scrap Metal to Recycle
Now that we know the benefits of scrap recycling and how we can do it, what can we actually bring to be recycled?
Almost all metals—from aluminum cans, to toys, to tools, and even cars—can be safely recycled. Some of the most common scrap metals are:
Most metals can be recycled, but that doesn’t mean your local scrap yard will accept all items. Be aware of the following items before you gather your scrap to recycle:
Cans with any trace of paint left over will not be accepted for recycling. Paint carries hazardous toxins—such as mercury in older paint—that are dangerous to handle improperly. Instead of the scrap yard, contact your local hazardous waste center so they can properly dispose of the cans without damaging the environment.
Motor Oil Cans
For the same reason as paint, scrap yards will also reject motor oil cans for recycling. Dispose of these cans at your local hazardous waste center.
Television and Computer Monitors
Your television and computer may contain harmful materials, including mercury, beryllium, lead, and arsenic. These elements can have a severe impact on the environment if not handled correctly.
E-waste is one of the fastest-growing segments of our waste stream, but it is full of items that can be safely recycled in the proper channels. Rubicon can help you find safe and cost-effective ways to dispose of e-waste.
Certain Car Parts
The automobile is the most recycled consumer product in the world, which is great because about 27 million cars every year reach the end of their driving journeys. While 90 percent of a vehicle can be safely recycled, some parts can not.
You should remove hazardous materials such as batteries, headlamps, display screens, sensors, GPS units, and CD players from the vehicle before you take it to recycle.
Improving our scrap metal recycling efforts is only one of the many ways we can make progress towards a circular economy.
If you have any questions, or you are interested in learning more about Rubicon’s sustainability offerings, please reach out to Rubicon’s Circular Solutions team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christopher Witherspoon is Director of Vendor Relations 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.