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How Does Metal Recycling Work?

preparing metal for metal recycling

In general, the recycling of scrap metals is less energy-intensive and more effective than
processing and refining raw metals using conventional mining methods. Mining creates a
variety of environmental hazards including toxic runoff, contamination of groundwater,
degradation of ecosystems, and fragile geological conditions. Moreover, most types of
mining require large fossil fuel inputs.

The recycling of scrap metal includes inputs of fossil fuel. It is generally considered to be
less energy-intensive than mining and does not lead to groundwater contamination or cause
physical scars on the ecosystem, which can take hundreds of years to heal. To conduct their

work, recycling plants do not require massive open-pit mines.

Why Do We Recycle?

Metals are useful materials that can be recycled repeatedly without their properties being
degraded. Scrap metal has a value that entices people to recycle or sell their collected
metals to a company to be recycled.

There is an environmental imperative, as well as a financial incentive to recycle. Metal
recycling helps us to conserve natural resources while consuming less energy than when
using fresh raw materials to produce new goods. Recycling creates less carbon dioxide and
other toxic gasses. Most importantly, it saves a lot of money and reduces the cost of
production for manufacturing companies. Recycling also creates jobs.

How Does The Recycling Process Generally Work?

Different recycling companies utilise a variety of processes, but all companies need to follow
the basics.

1. Collecting Scrap

Due to its higher scrap value, the collection process for metals is different from that of
other items. As such, metals are more likely to be sold to scrap yards than sent to
landfill. The largest ferrous metal source in the US is scrap vehicles.

Other sources include large steel buildings, trains, farm equipment, and, of course,
industrial scrap. Prompt scrap, produced during the manufacture of new items,
accounts for half of the supply of most metals being reused today.

2. Sorting Scrap

Sorting requires separating metals or mixed multi-material waste sourced from mixed
scrap metal sources. Magnets and sensors are used to facilitate the separation of
materials in automated recycling operations.

Scrappers can use a magnet at an entrepreneurial level as well as analyse the colour
or weight of the material to help determine its type. For example, aluminium is silver
and white. Some important colours to look out for are silver, yellow (for brass), gold,
and red. By separating clean metal from dirty material, scrappers can maximise the
value of their products.

3. Processing Scrap

Metals are shredded to allow further processing. Shredding is performed because
small shredded metals have a large surface-to-volume ratio to facilitate the melting

As a result, they can be melted using comparatively less energy. Aluminium is
typically converted into small sheets and steel is transformed into large blocks.

4. The Melting Process

Scrap is transported to a particular furnace designed to melt the metal. This step
requires the use of a significant amount of energy.

Nonetheless, the energy required to melt and recycle metals, as described above, is
much less than the energy needed to produce metals using pure raw materials.
Melting takes from just a few minutes to a few hours, based on the size of the
furnace, the degree of heat within the furnace, and the amount of metal.

5. Purifying The Material

Purification ensures a high-quality and contaminant-free final product. Electrolysis is
one of the most common methods of purification.

6. Solidifying The Recycled Metal

A conveyor belt holds molten metals after purification so they can be cooled and
allowed to solidify. At this stage, scrap metals are manipulated into specific forms
such as bars that can be easily used to manufacture different metal products.

Virtually any metal can be recycled and reused as new material. Indeed, the manufacturing
of scrap metal as an industry has proven to be immune to major economic pressures,
establishing itself as a key contributor to the global economy.

Facts and statistics clearly illustrate the advantages, in terms of cost savings, efficiencies,
and reducing our environmental impact. The scrap metal sector is worth more than £5.6
billion, annually, in the UK alone.


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