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Scrap Metal Recycling - Explanation & Information

Updated on June 4, 2013

As the world's prices of metal continues to rise, reclaiming scrap metal for recycling is big business.

Unlike many paper, plastic and glass products, metal has been recycled for as long as it has existed.

There has always been a healthy second-hand market in metals, but prices are now so high, it is certainly worth hanging on to any scrap metal you come across for later recycling.

In the UK, criminal gangs have moved into the scrap metal recycling business, stealing valuable war memorials, roofing lead and even vital railway line equipment, all for a fast buck.

As has been described in coin values, governments frequently have to downgrade the metals in coins to prevent their face value becoming worth less than their scrap metal value.

Lets have a closer look at scrap metal recycling, the laws surrounding it, and the types of metals sought after.

What types of metals are there?

For the purpose of recycling, there are only two types of metals.

  1. Ferrous
  2. Non-ferrous

Ferrous metals are iron and steel.

Steel packaging like food cans are among the ferrous metals which are valued at much lower prices than their non-ferrous counterparts.

Non-ferrous metals are copper, brass, aluminium and zinc.

This group can include drinks cans, memorial plaques, roofing metals (lead) and copper wires.

Non-ferrous metals attain a much higher price than ferrous.

One major difference between the two is that ferrous metals are magnetic.

scrap metal
scrap metal | Source

Examples of ferrous and non-ferrous metals

household appliances
aluminium drinks cans
aluminium wheels/rims
farm equipment
raliway tracks
copper wires or tubing
stainless steel

Everything that is made form metal can be recycled.

As you can see from the table above, ferrous metals make up the biggest structures to be found.

Iron is magnetic and worth very little. Steel is made from iron ore, water and sand.

Stainless steel is an alloy where most of the iron has been removed and so has a lot more value.

The non-ferrous metals are worth 20 times the value of the iron family.

Unfortunately, because of this value, many crooks have moved into the recycling business and have taken to stealing non ferrous metals simply because they can raise a great deal of money very quickly.

Scrap Metal and the Law

Legitimate scrap metal recyclers will insist that you show ID before they will accept scrap metal from you.

  • This ID must be a current driving license, national photo ID card or passport.
  • You must provide your name, address and phone number.
  • You must be over 18 years of age.
  • You must sign a form to say that the metal you are selling is not stolen.
  • You cannot sell wire that has been burnt unless it is accompanied by a certificate from the Fire Department to say you had a house fire.
  • You cannot sell kegs unless you represent the brewery that provided them.

Different rules apply to businesses selling scrap metals, but they must be able to prove that their business deals with the metals they are selling.

They are also required to:

  • Show their business license.
  • Give the recycling company the names and vehicle registration numbers of the staff who will be bringing in the scrap metal.

Those business customers could be scrap metal dealers. While most dealers are legitimate, some are not and it is those that give the trade a bad name.

Scrap metal recycling companies only pay out small amounts in cash to customers, the rest being sent by check.

Business customers receive higher amounts paid in cash.

I would appeal to recycling plants to not pay anyone in cash, simply because too many public buildings are being stripped, and public utilities are being deprived of necessary cabling thanks to the action of thieves.

Price per pound in US
Price per pound in UK
5 cents
8 pence
7 cents
10 pence
45 cents
35 pence
25 cents
45 pence

Some common scrap metal prices

The scrap prices shown in the chart here are not fixed in stone. World scrap prices constantly rise and fall, and the price you may get offered one day, may be quite different to the price you get the next.

Not only that, but larger amounts generate a greater price per pound than smaller amounts.

While the ball park figure for dealers is somewhere around the 30lb mark, individual metal dealers may set a higher or lower weight, and offer a higher or lower price.

The Role of the Scrap Metal Dealer

Scrap metal dealers act as go-betweens. It is their job to collect scrap metal and prepare it for a recycling plant.

  • All engines and motors have to be drained of fluids.
  • Nuts and bolts have to be removed from sheet metals and household items.
  • Refrigerators have to be drained of all refrigerants.
  • All appliances have to be disassembled.
  • Dirty metals need to be cleaned.
  • Different types of metals need to be sorted and separated.

Scrap metal dealers will also come to your home and physically remove large items for you. They will pay you the going rate for the scrap, as the lower level.

They make their money by preparing the metals and selling them in large amounts directly to recycling plants.

The role of scrap metal recycling plants

Some scrap metal recylcing plants will accept scrap metals directly from the public, but you will have to prepare it first.

Make sure your scrap metal is:

  • clean
  • dry
  • sorted into metal types where possible
  • disassembled into component parts
  • weighed out into exact pounds in weight - if you are half a pound over, the amount paid to you is rounded down to the nearest pound.

Check with your local recycling plant first, as some will not accept metals directly from the public.

You will need to show photo ID to prove who you are, as per the Law as is pertains to scrap metal recycling.

Do you recycle your scrap metal?

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There's money in scrap metal

So, as you can see, there is money to be made from scrap metal, especially non-ferrous metals that include copper, stainless steel and brass.

For metal detectorists like myself, it is well worth hanging on to those scraps of metal we frequently dig up from the earth or from beaches.

It is just possible that the metals picked up by discrimination metal detectors are not worthless junk after all.

household scrap metal
household scrap metal | Source

Household scrap metal

So if you have old scrap metal hanging around your yard, don't throw it away. Save it up, then take it along to your local recycling plant.

There's money in it. Don't worry too much about the types of metal. What is junk to you, is a treasure to someone else.

The most valuable of scrap metals may be present in small quantities in whatever scrap you have.

Even something as simple as a computer motherboard could be worth something!


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