scrap-metal-recycling.jpg Has a home improvement project left you with piles of scrap metal? Fear not; metal is one of the most recyclable products out there. Your mission is to get that scrap metal to someone who can put it back to use. The end destination could be a scrap metal recycler or your local municipal recycling center. If you are lucky, someone might even be willing to pay you for it.

Types of scrap metal

There are four common types of scrap metal you will typically find around the house: iron, steel, aluminum and copper. Iron is an element that can be mined and turned into metal. Wrought iron and cast iron are two common alloys found in homes (an alloy is a metal with other substances mixed in to add beneficial characteristics). Sinks, old pipes and old decorative gates are likely to be made of iron. Steel is another alloy of iron. Steel contains 2% copper, 1% manganese and trace amounts of things like sulfur and silicone. It is extremely strong, resists fire and will not warp over time. The World Steel Association calls steel “the world’s most important engineering and construction material.” Rebar and many beams are made with steel, which is cheap to produce and has largely displaced other iron alloys in construction. Aluminum is an extremely common metal found in everything from roofing material to window frames. Aluminum itself is a mined substance, but it is combined with copper and magnesium before it is turned into consumer products. Aluminum is lightweight but strong, does not rust and conducts heat and electricity well. Copper is another mined substance that we put to work in our homes. It is excellent at conducting electricity and is quite beautiful, especially as it takes on a patina as it oxidizes over time. Copper may be used as a roofing material or decorative accent. It is also found in cords and other conductive wires.

Why should I recycle scrap metal?

Much like petroleum, metal is a finite resource. Recycling metal will help put off the time when we have extracted all these precious materials from the earth. Metal mines can be a serious source of pollution. For example, copper mines in Arizona are located in an area that naturally contains rocks high in radioactive materials like uranium. During the mining process, those radioactive substances can escape and leach into ground water. In addition, manufacturing brand-new metals takes a tremendous amount of energy. Aluminum producers state that they can reduce their carbon emissions by 95% when they use recycled aluminum instead of virgin aluminum. The steel industry reports that recycling steel saves 74% of the energy used to produce it in the first place.

How to easily recycle scrap metal

Demand for metal is high, and that means some outfits will pay you for it. If you are able to haul your scrap metal yourself, see if your community has a business such as Western Metals Recycling or Schnitzer Steel that accepts materials from individuals. Check their hours and list of acceptable materials before you go. You may be surprised how many items they can take, such as those nonworking Christmas lights taking up space in your basement. To get the highest value for your metal, separate it into the different types before dropping it off. Scrap metal prices fluctuate wildly, so do not be surprised if you make more or less money than a neighbor who dropped off product a few weeks earlier. If your community does not have a company that accepts scrap metal from individuals, your municipal recycling center should be happy to take it. Pay close attention to exactly what the center can accept. For example, many places charge a fee or simply will not take refrigerators, freezers and air conditioners because of the cost of removing the refrigerant. Don’t own a pickup truck? Many cities have bulky collection days, where they send trucks into neighborhoods to collect large items that cannot go in the trash. This resource can be another way to recycle large pieces of scrap metal. Honolulu and Detroit have trucks that circulate on a regular schedule and will collect up to 1 cubic yard of material left over from minor home remodels. In Oakland, CA, and McKinney, TX, homeowners can call and schedule an appointment to have items picked up. Typically, communities sell recycling stickers that must be affixed to each item as a way to pay for the service (a system similar to the way postage stamps work). Inquire at your local public works office to find out if bulky collection services are available and where you can purchase stickers. Also, ask for your community’s guidelines for what is accepted through the bulky collection program. For example, Austin, TX, is very clear that it will not collect construction and remodeling debris (although it will take rolled-up fencing and lumber with the nails removed). Depending on the condition of your scrap metal, you may be able to donate it to a local charity like a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which specializes in reusing construction materials.