The Basics of Recycling Scrap Metal

Recycling scrap metal is good for the environment — few would argue with that — but it can also be profitable. According to the Bureau for International Recycling, almost 600 million tons of material are recycled worldwide as part of a billion-dollar industry. And considering how many different metals can be recycled, there is little excuse for disposing of scrap metal in any other way.

Recycling Ferrous Metals

Ferrous metals are those containing iron and constitute the most commonly used metal in the world. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there were over 18 million tons of ferrous materials generated in the United States in 2015, but only 6 million tons were recycled while 9 million tons went to landfills.

The scrap metal industry recognizes three classifications of ferrous metals: iron, steel, and stainless steel.

Iron and Steel

Iron and steel are both ferrous metals that have high iron content and some carbon content. Both are magnetic, and together they account for about 52% of recycled scrap metal in the US.

Wrought Iron Fence

There are two major classifications of iron: cast iron made of 94% – 98% iron with carbon added, and wrought iron which is almost 100% iron. You will typically see cast iron used for manhole covers, engine blocks, and patio furniture; wrought iron, on the other hand, is used for fencing, gates, and railings.

Steel is one of the most recycled materials in the world. It is iron-based with a very limited amount of carbon (usually no more than 7%) along with various other additives to produce special properties. Mild steel has the lowest carbon content (0.1% to 0.3%) and can be found in many different types of products. Carbon steel, on the other hand, has a higher carbon content than mild steel (0.6% to 1.4%) and is often used for cutting tools such as knives, drill bits, and machining tools.

Recycling scrap iron and steel makes a positive impact on the environment because the use of secondary ferrous metals results in fewer CO2 emissions, less energy consumption, and efficient use of natural resources.

Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel Faucet

Stainless steel, while technically a type of steel, almost belongs in its own category. Unlike mild steel and carbon steel, it is resistant to both corrosion and a variety of chemicals because it also contains nickel and chromium. It is used in applications where corrosion resistance is vital, such as faucets and surgical tools.

According to the Bureau of International Recycling, the demand for stainless steel has doubled in the last decade, making recycling a necessary part of a stable stainless steel market. In addition, many of the alloying elements used to make stainless steel are becoming more and more scarce with costly (and often environmentally damaging) methods used for extraction. Recycling stainless steel also plays a key role in the supply of these alloying elements.

Recycling Non-Ferrous Metals

There are many different non-ferrous metals that can be recycled, including aluminum, copper and brass, lead, tin, and silver. Of these, copper and aluminum are among the most commonly recycled metals, especially when it comes to consumer recycling.


Aluminum Cans

Aluminum is usually alloyed with copper and manganese, forming a general-purpose, lightweight, pliable metal that is used in applications ranging from rain gutters to aircraft parts. It is the second most-recycled metal, following iron and steel, and the value of recycled aluminum in the US for 2016 amounted to over $6 billion dollars.


Another commonly recycled metal is copper, a metal known for its conductivity and corrosion resistance. Pipes, tubing, valves, and wire are common forms that recycled copper take. It may also be alloyed with other materials such as zinc (making brass), lead, and tin. Copper happens to be the most recyclable material in the world, making the waste of copper scrap almost unforgivable.

Basic Scrap Metal Recycling Process

While different metals will have different recycling processes, there are some aspects that all scrap metal recycling methods have in common. Here is a general outline of scrap metal recycling:

Brass Ingots
  • Sorting, which involves not just separating different types of metals but separating types of metal by their grade
  • Baling and transporting, in which scrap metal is compacted and transported to appropriate smelting plants.
  • Shearing, which involves the use of powerful hydraulic shears to cut scrap metal into manageable sizes
  • Separation, which uses magnets to separate ferrous metals; other methods may include electrical currents, air, and liquid floats
  • Melting, where each grade of metal is melted down in a furnace and poured into molds that shape it into ingots
  • Reuse, where the ingots become feedstock for manufacturing processes


Outdoor wrought iron handrails, old cutting tools, aluminum gutters, patio furniture, copper pipes, wiring, brass plumbing valves, and other forms of scrap metal can be recycled and redeemed for money. Not only is scrap metal recycling a very green option when it comes to metal disposal, but it is also a wise choice financially — and it’s not too often that those two concepts overlap.

Accurate Recycling

If you have scrap metal that needs a new home, contact the experts at Accurate Recycling. We not only purchase both ferrous and non-ferrous scrap, but we can supply you with a dumpster for large-scale recycling, or you can simply come to us. We serve the Philadelphia area including Delaware County, Chester County, Philadelphia County, and Montgomery County as well as customers in Delaware and New Jersey. Contact us today!