||The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (December 2011)|
Scrap consists of recyclable materials left over from product manufacturing and consumption, such as parts of vehicles, building supplies, and surplus materials. Unlike waste, scrap can have significant monetary value.
How scrap is processed
Scrap metal originates both in business and residential environments. Typically a "scrapper" will advertise their services to conveniently remove scrap metal for people who don't need it, or need to get rid of it.
Scrap is often taken to a wrecking yard (also known as a scrapyard, junkyard, or breaker's yard), where it is processed for later melting into new products. A wrecking yard, depending on its location, may allow customers to browse their lot and purchase items before they are sent to the smelters, although many scrap yards that deal in large quantities of scrap usually do not, often selling entire units such as engines or machinery by weight with no regard to their functional status. Customers are typically required to supply all of their own tools and labour to extract parts, and some scrapyards may first require waiving liability for personal injury before entering. Many scrapyards also sell bulk metals (stainless steel, etc.) by weight, often at prices substantially below the retail purchasing costs of similar pieces.
In contrast to wreckers, scrapyards typically sell everything by weight, rather than by item. To the scrapyard, the primary value of the scrap is what the smelter will give them for it, rather than the value of whatever shape the metal may be in. An auto wrecker, on the other hand, would price exactly the same scrap based on what the item does, regardless of what it weighs. Typically, if a wrecker cannot sell something above the value of the metal in it, they would then take it to the scrapyard and sell it by weight. Equipment containing parts of various metals can often be purchased at a price below that of either of the metals, due to saving the scrapyard the labour of separating the metals before shipping them to be recycled. As an example, a scrapyard in Arcata, California sells automobile engines for $0.25 per pound, while aluminum, of which the engine is mostly made, sells for $1.25 per pound.
Some of the biggest searches for scrapping is for scrap prices. Finding them throughout the internet can be tricky. Sometime they are displayed as the market prices which are not the prices that recyclers will see at the scrap yards. Other prices are ranges or older and not updated frequently. The rate of the scrap metal market is ever changing. Some scrap yards' websites have scrap prices on them and are updated but sometimes it can just pay to call the scrap yard yourself. Scrap prices are reported in a handful of U.S. publications, including American Metal Market, based on confirmed sales. Non-US domiciled publications, such as The Steel Index, also report on the US scrap price, which has become increasingly important to global export markets. Scrap yards directories, like the iScrap App are also important for recyclers to find facilities in the US & Canada allowing users to get in contact with yards within minutes.
With many resources online for recyclers to look at for scrapping tips, like on YouTube and Blogs, scrapping is often referred to as a hands and labor intensive job. Taking apart and separating metals is important to making more money on scrap. For tips like using a magnet to determine ferrous and non-ferrous materials, that can help recyclers make more money on their metal recycling. When a magnet sticks to the metal, it will be a ferrous material, like steel or iron. This is usually a less expensive item that is recycled but usually is recycled in larger quantities of thousands of pounds. Non-ferrous metal do not stick to a magnet like copper, aluminum, brass, and stainless steel. These items are higher priced commodities for metal recycling and are important to separate when recycling them.
Great potential exists in the scrap metal industry for accidents in which a hazardous material, which is present in scrap, causes death, injury, or environmental damage. A classic example is radioactivity in scrap; see the Goiânia accident and the Mayapuri radiological accident as examples of accidents involving radioactive materials, which entered the scrap metal industry and some details of the behaviour of contaminating chemical elements in metal smelters. Many specialised tools used in scrapyards, such as the Alligator shear which cuts metal using hydraulic force, can also be dangerous to untrained people.
Benefits of recycling scrap metals
According to research conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency, recycling scrap metals can be quite beneficial to the environment. Using recycled scrap metal in place of virgin iron ore can yield:
- 75% savings in energy
- 90% savings in raw materials used
- 86% reduction in air pollution
- 40% reduction in water use
- 76% reduction in water pollution
- 97% reduction in mining wastes
Every ton of new steel made from scrap steel saves:
- 1,115 kg of iron ore
- 625 kg of coal
- 53 kg of limestone
Energy savings from other metals include:
- Aluminium savings of 95% energy
- Copper savings of 85% energy
- Lead savings of 65% energy
- Zinc savings of 60% energy
Metal recycling industry
The metal recycling industry encompasses a wide range of metals. The more frequently recycled metals are scrap steel, iron (ISS), lead, aluminium, copper, stainless steel and zinc. There are two main categories of metals: ferrous and non-ferrous. Metals which contain iron in them are known as Ferrous where metals without iron are non-ferrous.
- Common non-ferrous metals are copper, brass, aluminum, zinc, magnesium, tin, nickel, and lead.
Non-ferrous metals also include precious and exotic metals.
- Precious metals are metals with a high market value in any form, such as gold, silver, and platinum group metals.
- Exotic metals contain rare elements such as cobalt, mercury, titanium, tungsten, arsenic, beryllium, bismuth, cerium, cadmium, niobium, indium, gallium, germanium, lithium, selenium, tantalum, tellurium, vanadium, and zirconium. Some types of metals are radioactive. These may be “naturally-occurring” or may be formed as by-products of nuclear reactions. Metals that have been exposed to radioactive sources may also become radioactive in settings such as medical environments, research laboratories, or nuclear power plants.
OSHA guidelines should be followed when recycling any type of scrap metal to ensure safety.
Role in the American economy
The scrap industry contributed $65 billion in 2006 and is one of the few contributing positively to the U.S. balance of trade, exporting $15.7 billion in scrap commodities in 2006. This imbalance of trade has resulted in rising scrap prices during 2007 and 2008 within the United States. Scrap recycling also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserves energy and natural resources. For example, scrap recycling diverts 145 million short tons (129,000,000 long tons; 132,000,000 t) of materials away from landfills. Recycled scrap is a raw material feedstock for 2 out of 3 pounds of steel made in the U.S., for 60% of the metals and alloys produced in the U.S., for more than 50% of the U.S. paper industry’s needs, and for 33% of U.S. aluminum. Recycled scrap helps keep air and water cleaner by removing potentially hazardous materials and keeping them out of landfills.
British Rail locomotives stacked awaiting scrapping.
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