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.
What Are We Doing With Recycled 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. Recycling saves money and helps manufacturing companies reduce production costs. Additionally, recycling creates new jobs.
Quick metal recycling facts
Although nearly every type of metal can still be recycled without affecting its properties, only 34% of the metal found in U.S. municipal trash facilities were recycled in 2018.2 Here are more facts:
Recycled materials were used to make 490.98 millions (32%) of the 1,532.51 metric tons of crude steel worldwide in 2019.
Recycled materials made up 69% of the crude steel produced in the United States in 2019.
In 2018, the United States produced 2.2 million tonnes of steel cans, and other steel packaging scrap.
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.
Recycling one aluminum can help save enough energy for a 100-watt lightbulb that lasts nearly four hours.
Metals can be classified either as ferrous or non-ferrous. Combinations of iron and carbon make up ferrous metals. 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, silver, iridium and palladium.
Metal Recycling Process
These are the main steps in the metal recycling process:
Because metals have a higher scrap value, the collection process is different from other materials. Because of its higher scrap value, metals are more likely to be sold at scrap yards rather than to the dump. Scrap vehicles are the largest source of scrap ferrous material in the United States.6
Other sources of scrap include large steel structures and railroad tracks, ships, farm machinery, and consumer scrap. One-half of the ferrous scrap supply comes from prompt scrap. This is scrap that is made during new product manufacturing.
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 a lot less energy. Aluminum is usually converted into small sheets and steel into steel blocks.
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 size and heat of the furnace.
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.
7. 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.
The Metal Recycling Industry
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 difficult to extract all the materials from a smartphone and reuse them for new products.
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. Although aluminum isn’t magnetic, this technology can lift it up and allow plastics drop 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.
Opportunities in Metal Recycling
Metal recycling was a lucrative business opportunity. However, recent depressed metal prices have made it difficult. Entrepreneurs can enter the metal recycling industry by starting a scrap metal collection company or becoming a scrap vendor.
Metal Recycling Laws and Legislation
You should be familiar with the laws in your state regarding metal recycling if you want to start a business. This interactive map will allow you to locate metal recycling laws relevant to each jurisdiction.
Metal Recycling Trade Associations
ISRI (Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc.): ISRI, the largest trade association representing businesses involved in recycling, is located in Washington. It is home to over 1,300 non-profit businesses from 40 countries.
BMRA (British Metals Recycling Association),: BMRA is the largest trade association in the UK, representing over 270 scrap metal recyclers.
AMRIA: AMRIA stands for Australian Metal Recycling Industry Association.
CARI: CARI stands Canadian Associations of Recycling Industries. It is home to over 200 members.
A member of a trade association in the recycling industry allows a new business to understand and follow the trends and maintain good relationships with other businesses.