An Introduction to Metal Recycling

An Introduction to Metal Recycling

You can recycle metals multiple times without affecting their properties. The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) states that steel is the most widely recycled metal on the planet. 1 Other highly recyclable metals include copper, silver and brass.

Why do we recycle metals?

Metals are valuable materials which can be recycled repeatedly without degrading their properties. People collect scrap metal to sell it to recycle operations.

There is an additional incentive for financial sustainability. Recycling metals allows us to conserve natural resources and requires less energy than manufacturing new products from virgin raw materials. Recycling produces less carbon dioxide and other harmful gases. It also reduces the cost of production , which is a plus. Recycling creates new jobs.

Quick Metal Recycling Facts

While almost all metals can be recycled repeatedly without causing any damage to their properties, only 34% of the metal found in U.S. municipal trash facilities were recycled in 2018. 2 Here are some facts.

  • Recycled materials were used to make 490.98 millions (32%) of the 1,532.51 metric tons of crude steel worldwide in 2019.
  • 3 In 2019, 69% of the crude steel produced in the United States was made from recycled materials.
  • In 2018, around 2.2 million tonnes of steel cans and other packaging waste were produced in the United States. 4
  • Iron and steel are two of the most commonly recycled materials worldwide. This is partly due to their ability to recover large structures and the ease of reprocessing. Recyclers can easily separate the recyclables from mixed waste streams by using magnets in their sorting process.
  • The aluminum can is currently the most widely recycled container in the universe.

Types of metals that can be recycled

Metals can be classified ferrous or non-ferrous . Ferrous metals combine iron and carbon. Common ferrous metals are carbon steel, alloy and wrought iron.

Non-ferrous metals, on the other hand, include aluminum, copper and lead, zinc, as well as tin. Non-ferrous precious metals include gold, silver, iridium and palladium. Precious metals are most commonly found in gold, platinum and silver.

The Metal Recycling Process

These are the main steps of the Metal Recycling Process:


Because metals have a higher scrap value, the collection process is different from other materials. It is therefore more likely that it will be sold to scrap yards rather than being disposed of in the dump. Scrap vehicles are the largest source of scrap ferrous material in the United States. 6

Other sources are large steel structures and railroad tracks, ships, farm machinery, and, of course, scrap from consumers. One-half of the supply of ferrous scrap is made from prompt scrap.


Sorting is the process of separating metals from mixed scrap metal streams or mixed multi-material waste streams. Magnets and sensors can be used in automated recycling operations to assist with material separation.

Entrepreneurial scrappers might use a magnet to examine the material and determine its type. Aluminum will, for example, be silvery and light. Copper, yellow (for brass), and red (for red brass) are also important colors. By segregating the clean metal from the dirt, scrappers can increase the material’s value.


Metals can be shredded to allow for further processing. Because small amounts of shredded metals have a high surface-to-volume ratio, shredding helps to accelerate the melting process.

They can therefore be melted with comparatively little energy. Aluminum is usually converted into small sheets and steel into steel blocks.


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In a large furnace, scrap metal is melted. Each metal is taken into a furnace that melts it. This step requires a lot of energy.

As mentioned, however, melting and recycling metals requires much less energy than producing metals from virgin raw materials. Melting can be done in a matter of minutes to hours depending on the furnace’s size, heat level, and the volume of the metal.


To ensure that the final product is high-quality and free from contaminants, purification is necessary. The most popular method for purification is electrolysis.


The conveyor belt is used to transport the melted metals through purification. It then cools and solidifies the metals. This stage allows scrap metals to be formed into bars, which can then be used in the production of many metal products.

Transport of the Metal Bars

After the metals have been cooled and solidified they can be used. The metals are then shipped to different factories, where they can be used as raw material in the production of new products.

The metal recycling process begins again when these products are no longer in use.

Metal Recycling Industry: Challenges

An overall metal recycling rate of 34% is unacceptable. This is despite the fact that almost all metals can be recycled. There are still challenges to overcome in capturing more material for recycling. This can be achieved by increasing community recycling programs and raising public awareness.

The design of different metal products is another important factor in the low recycling rate. Recycling is becoming more difficult due to the increasing complexity of modern products and their varied material mixes. It is becoming increasingly difficult to recycle smartphones because of their complexity and the variety of materials they contain.

Metal Recycling Technologies

Modern recycling technologies are capable of identifying many types of metals. However, there is still a need for more efficient recycling technologies to separate nonferrous metals.

The most crucial step in sorting is to separate ferrous metals and non-ferrous metals. Iron-rich ferrous metals are attracted to magnets, which allow them to be pulled from the mixed waste stream. An electromagnet is used to remove large amounts of ferrous scrap from scrap yards.

The paper is first removed when sorting metals out of a stream of mixed recyclable material. Only metals and plastics are left. Next, the stream is inducted with electric currents so that only metals are affected. This is known as eddy current separation. This technology allows aluminum to be levitated and plastics to fall out.

If enough scrap is collected, it becomes economically feasible to recover precious metals like palladium, gold, platinum, and other valuable metals from electronic waste. This requires more sophisticated and technologically advanced recycling equipment. Infrared scanning and/or x-ray sensors are becoming more popular in large recycling facilities. There are three main types of metal sensing processes: biotechnology, hydrometallurgy and pyrometallurgy. These technologies can improve metal recovery rates.

Metal Recycling Business Opportunities

Metal recycling was a lucrative business opportunity. However, recent depressed metal prices have made it difficult to recycle. An entry point to the metal recycling industry at an entrepreneurial level is starting a scrap metal collection company or becoming scrap metal vendor.