Series: Scrap Metal Recycling
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW…
Most metals can be recycled repeatedly without their properties getting degraded. Scrap metal recycling helps both financially and environmentally. In this series, we’ve talked about the types of scrap metal. Now, the recycling process, and soon, the benefits of giving metals a new life.
THE SCRAP METAL RECYCLING PROCESS
The process of turning your old soda cans, cars, or cooking pans into an assortment of brand-new products is complex and fascinating. Here are the stages:
Before you bring your materials to a metal scrap yard, there are a few things you should do. As best you can, separate the metal from all other materials, such as plastic or paper. The general rule is that a product must contain 50% or more metal, so set aside items that qualify. Afterward, you may want to use a magnet to identify which items are ferrous and which are non-ferrous. This isn’t always necessary but may help get unloaded and weighed faster.
When you take scrap metals to a scrap metal yard near you, the materials first go through a weigh-in station. At some locations, you can even stay in your car while a scale operator unloads and weighs your material. Then, you’ll get a weight ticket to cash in. In addition to scrap metal collectors, metal is collected through curbside recycling services or from large generators or scrap dealers. Curbside and public recycling services typically only take common household metal items like cans, and not the full range of recyclable metals. That’s where scrap recyclers come in.
Scrap yards, like Premier, use several different means to sort and separate metal, including visual identification, spectrometers, magnets, and electrical currents. It’s important to keep metals grouped together because they need to meet certain standards, which means no mixing other metals and materials. Scrappers can get more money for their metal if they do some of this work ahead of time and dismantle things that are made of mixed materials – for example, a metal bike with rubber tires and plastic handles.
To make the melting process more efficient, metals have to be cut down to specific sizes and shapes. Scrap metal is made to order; the scrap yard already knows what shapes, compositions, and weights of metals their customer needs. Shredding, torching, and baling are all examples of ways that scrap metal can be prepared, depending on its final use. Once the metal is sized and processed, it leaves the scrap yard and goes on to the next customer in the chain: the mills, foundries, and smelters that use scrap to make new metal.
The process to melt down scrap metal will vary from one metal to the next, and the level of purity that’s needed. Melting metals makes the impurities rise to the top where they can be separated from the remaining metal. Some metals go through additional refinement through processes like electrolysis to yield something as close as possible to primary, or new, metal. The alternative source for making metal is metal ore that is mined out of the ground, referred to as virgin metal. The two can be used together – scrap metal, once purified, retains all the same properties as its parent metals. Using scrap helps save energy and costs compared to virgin metal.
Once cleared of contaminants, molten metal is transformed as it solidifies. There are several different forms it might take, and plants are specialized in what types they create. Examples include bars, wire, coil, and sheets. Sometimes, chemicals are added to the metal to make it denser or change its properties. After solidifying is finished, the metal is ready to be used again.
The mill is not the end-user of the new metal. It goes on to other sectors of the manufacturing stream, like manufacturers, automakers, aerospace, public works projects, and a vast array of consumer goods. Through repair and reuse, the lifecycles of those products can be maximized until it’s finally time to recycle them again. Metal recycling is fast. It can take as little as 60 days for an aluminum can to be recycled and returned to the supermarket shelf as another can of soda!