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What is Scrap Metal Recycling?

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The basis of a strong industry, scrap metal recycling is both a process and a product. Scrap metal recycling is the process of recovering and processing scrap metal from old products or structures. It can also be used to make scrap so it can be used as a raw material for new products. It is recyclable repeatedly without affecting its properties. It is a raw material for new products and has a lower carbon footprint. Additionally, it uses less resources than new materials. Metal recycling is a powerful economic activity that has many benefits beyond the environmental. The U.S. ferrous waste industry was valued at $18.3 million in 2015. The value of U.S. nonferrous waste was close to $32 billion in 2014.

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The Scrap Metal Recycling Process

There are many steps involved in the scrap metal process. It all starts with collection. Scrap metal collectors collect small amounts of scrap to sell to scrap yards. Scrap dealers with larger capacities or curbside recycling can also recover metal from larger generators.

The metals are then separated, bagged for shipping, shred, and finally melted. The use of powerful magnet systems, electrolysis or other technologies can be used to purify metals.

Recycling has many benefits

Other than diverting material from landfills and creating new metal, there are other benefits to metal recycling. These include a decrease in energy consumption and the reduction of the use of other materials. Recycled aluminum consumes 95 percent less energy than copper, which requires 90 percent, and steel 56 percent more. Recycling one ton of steel saves 2,500 pounds iron ore, 1,400 lbs of coal, and 120 lbs of limestone.

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Scrap Metal Recovery Rates and Volumes

ISRI estimates that the United States has recycled 67 million tonnes of ferrous metal in 2015, according to ISRI. The 11 million cars that were recycled provided the largest source of ferrous metal. The volume of ferrous metals is greater than that of nonferrous metals. However, their higher value generates more industry revenue and they are therefore aggressively recycled. Nonferrous scrap was recovered in aluminum, copper and lead as well as nickel, tin and zinc. It generated a total volume of 8,000,000 metric tons.

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These were the top nonferrous scrap metal recoveries in 2015:

Copper production at 1.8 million tonnes

  • 25 million metric tons lead
  • 175,000 metric tonnes of zinc
  • 620,000 metric tons nickel/stainless/steel

In terms of landfill diversion, the recycling rate is an important indicator. Recycling scrap metal has been practiced for thousands of years as it is more efficient than the mining and processing of new ore. Because of its intrinsic value, metal recycling rates are usually high.

Here’s an example: Ferrous metals have the following recovery rate:

  • For cars: 106 per cent
  • Appliances: 90%
  • Steel cans: 66.6 percent
  • For structural steel: 98 per cent
  • for reinforcement steel: 70 percent

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It can be difficult to maintain a high recycling rate for consumer goods, as is the case with aluminum beverage containers. The recycling rate for aluminum containers is currently at 49.4 percent (2016). This is down from 54.5 per cent in 2015. The recovery rate for aluminum cans is higher in jurisdictions with beverage container deposit laws. The recovery rate in British Columbia was 90.4 percent (2014), despite having a deposit of 5 cents.

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