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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 has monetary value, especially recovered metals, and non-metallic materials are also recovered for recycling.
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.
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 labor 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 wrecking yards, 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 labor of separating the metals before shipping them to be recycled.
Scrap prices may vary markedly over time and in different locations. Prices are often negotiated among buyers and sellers directly or indirectly over the Internet. Prices displayed as the market prices are not the prices that recyclers will see at the scrap yards. Other prices are ranges or older and not updated frequently. Some scrap yards' websites have updated scrap prices.
In the US, scrap prices are reported in a handful of publications, including American Metal Market, based on confirmed sales as well as reference sites such as Scrap Metal Prices and Auctions. 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 are also used by recyclers to find facilities in the US and Canada, allowing users to get in contact with yards.
With resources online for recyclers to look at for scrapping tips, like web sites, blogs, and search engines, 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 metals like copper, aluminum, brass, and stainless steel do not stick to a magnet (some cheaper grades of stainless steel are ferrous and magnetic). These items are higher priced commodities for metal recycling and are important to separate when recycling them. The prices of non-ferrous metals also tend to fluctuate more than ferrous metals so it is important for recyclers to pay attention to these sources and the overall markets.
Great potential exists in the scrap metal industry for accidents in which a hazardous material present in scrap causes death, injury, or environmental damage. A classic example is radioactivity in scrap; the Goiânia accident and the Mayapuri radiological accident were incidents involving radioactive materials. Toxic materials such as asbestos or metals such as beryllium, cadmium, or mercury may pose dangers to personnel, as well as contaminating materials intended for metal smelters.
Many specialized tools used in scrapyards are hazardous, such as the alligator shear which cuts metal using hydraulic force, compactors, and heavy-duty shredder machines.
Benefits of recycling
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.
The scrap industry was valued at more than $90 billion in 2012, up from $54 billion in 2009 balance of trade, exporting $28 billion in scrap commodities to 160 countries. Since 2010, the industry has added more than 15,000 jobs, and supports 463,000 workers, both directly and indirectly. In addition, it generates more than $10 billion in revenue for federal, state, and local governments. Scrap recycling also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions and conserves energy and natural resources. For example, scrap recycling diverts 135 million short tons (121,000,000 long tons; 122,000,000 t) of materials away from landfills. Recycled scrap is a raw material feedstock for nearly 60% of steel made in the US, for almost 50% of the copper and copper alloys produced in the US, for more than 75% of the US paper industry’s needs, and for 50% of US aluminum. Recycled scrap helps keep air and water cleaner by removing potentially hazardous materials and keeping them out of landfills.
Scrap depot (Butte, Montana, 1942)
Compressed bales consisting mostly of tin cans
British Rail locomotives stacked awaiting scrapping
Flattened cars stacked near Philadelphia (c. 1973)
Stacked cubed cars (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
Rhine River scrap barge (Basel, Switzerland)
Scrap awaiting export (Bremen, Germany)
Scrap metal hauler (Libya)
Partition made of compacted cars (Birmingham, England)
- Aircraft boneyard
- Ferrous metal recycling
- Heavy melting steel
- Metal theft
- Recyclable waste
- Scrap iron
- Vehicle recycling
- Wrecking yard
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