Series: Scrap Metal Recycling


Metals can be recycled many, many times without their properties getting degraded. Recycling scrap metal helps both financially and environmentally. In this series, we’ll talk about the types of scrap metal, the recycling process, and the benefits of giving metals a new life.


Scrap metal recycling refers to the salvaging and processing of recyclable metal materials from end-of-life products and structures so they can be reintroduced as raw materials to produce new goods. Scrap, or junk, metal recycling is something that most people may not find themselves engaging in. But metal recycling can make the disposal of many items greener! Scrap metal recovery and recycling is a massive and growing industry in the United States.

Scrap metal is categorized into two types: ferrous and non-ferrous. Here’s the difference between the two:

    The term “ferrous” is derived from the Latin word for iron and refers to both iron and steel. Steel is the most recycled material in North America. The metal comes not only from cans but also from construction scraps, automobiles, and appliances, and it can be turned right back into steel that can be used in the same applications. Iron is the second most commonly occurring metal in our planet.
    The largest sources of scrap ferrous metals in the U.S. are found in durable products such as appliances, tires, and furniture. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 27.8% of all recycled ferrous metals in 2018 came from these durable goods, which equals a whopping 4.7 million tons. Because nearly all ferrous metals are magnetic, metal scrap yards often use massive electromagnets mounted on excavators to load and unload ferrous scrap from trucks and move it around.
    Because non-ferrous metals don’t lose their chemical properties during the recycling process, they can be endlessly recycled. There’s a long list of non-ferrous metals, but some of the most common base metals include aluminum, copper, nickel, lead, tin, and zinc. Precious metals like gold and silver also belong to the non-ferrous category. Each of these has a wide variety of uses. Although non-ferrous scrap makes up only 10% of the total material recycled in the U.S., it provides half the total value of the scrap recycling industry’s earnings. For example, the U.S. exported $10.4 billion worth of non-ferrous scrap metal to more than 95 countries in 2018 alone. Because recycling operations purchase non-ferrous scrap on a per-pound basis, it’s usually more valuable to recyclers.