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Metal recycling guide

Metals recycling is an increasingly significant contributor to environmental and manufacturing health in the UK.  Local spaces are protected from discarded debris, a huge workforce is kept in employment and energy is routinely saved through the support of the UK metals recycling industry.

For these reasons we’ve assembled the following guide - utilising our industry expertise - on everything to do with metal recycling.

How to recycle metal

Not only can reusing excess mined materials help to prevent physical waste in the environment; by reducing waste, the need for manufacturing processes to replace and forge new materials is eliminated.

If you have a collection of valuable metals, you have a few options:

Many establishments like these will pay you for recyclable scrap metal, the most commonly accepted types being aluminium, brass, copper, iron and steel.  Every metal is unique in its type, requiring a specific recycling process and reclaiming method.

What type of scrap metal do I have?

Metal is separated generally into two groups: steel and aluminium.  The type of scrap metal you have will make a big difference in terms of expected pay.  It’s important, therefore, to properly identify what’s in your stockpile.  The easiest way to achieve this is by using a magnet.

If a magnet sticks to your metal, then it is likely to be a ferrous metal such as iron or steel.

If the magnet doesn’t attract, you then have a non-ferrous metal such as aluminium, brass, bronze, copper, or stainless steel.

The metal’s colour, texture and general appearance can provide more clues as to the type of scrap metal you’re dealing with.

Recycling tin

Tin cans were once referred to as “tinned cans” because, far from being made entirely from tin, the ratio is actually 5% tin to 95% steel.  The tin comprises a thin layer on the outside of the can that prevents rusting.

To properly recycle these items, recycling centres must “de-tin” the cans.  They do this by utilising a process of electrolysis, with a caustic chemical solution, to strip out the exterior layer of tin.  The tin is collected on a plate, then melted and transformed into an ingot or metal cast.

Recycling steel

Steel is one of the most commonly used metals in the entire world, used in all kinds of objects from cars to cabinets and much more.

Steel products are easily identified by their magnetic properties (a magnet will stick to steel) and by their tendency to rust.

To make the best of the money-making potential in steel recycling, it’s best to trade scrap in a relatively undamaged form.  Aerosol cans should not be crushed, squashed or pierced for instance, but they should be empty and relieved of their high pressure.

Click here to sell your scrap stainless steel

This will ease the recycling process, during which steel is separated (if necessary) from other components before being baled, flattened or shredded for melting down.

Recycled steel often finds its way into vehicle constructions like boats, cars, etc. as a cost-effective manufacturing material.

Recycling aluminium

Aluminium can be found in many places beyond beverage cans.  It is also used in objects such as gutters, window frames, doors and much more.  It can be identified by its relative bendiness, as well as its natural white-silver colour, which is often covered with white paint.

When taken to a recycling centre or scrap dealer, aluminium is generally sent to be turned into small chips – a process called ‘shredding’ – before being sent for smelting.  During this process, any harmful compound, gas or dust produced as a side effect is mitigated using modern technology.

Once smelted and poured into ingots or large sheets, the metal can be reused in a variety of places, including in cans or new car castings.

Click here to sell your scrap aluminium

Research has indicated that recycling aluminium requires 95% less energy to produce than aluminium made from raw materials.  Additionally, aluminium’s common purpose as an alloy to copper, zinc, magnesium, iron and more means massive energy savings anywhere it is recycled.

Recycling copper

Most people feel ready to identify copper by its colouration – reddish when in good condition, darker brown when worn, with a tendency to turn green when corroded.

Often used in wiring, it’s important that recycled copper is inspected and graded for its quality and integrity.  Top quality copper is selected for melting down and improvement through a process called ‘fire refining’.  After this, the copper can be deoxidised and transformed into ingots or billets.

Click here to sell your scrap copper

Copper recycling offers several energy efficiency benefits, largely due to the metal’s status as a popular thermal and electrical conductor.  Reports have shown that copper’s performance, following the recycling process, is unaffected – the metal will retain all of its thermal and electrical conducting properties.

Overall, copper is one of the most valuable metals to collect for recycling.

Why is metal recycling important?

Practically all metals can be recycled and transformed into new metal of equivalent quality.  As a result, the industry’s production of secondary raw materials for use in manufacturing allows for significant reductions in usage of organic resources and energy.

As a whole, the recycling industry is a net contributor to the UK’s balance of trade, helping the country to meet ‘end of life’ targets in vehicles, packaging, electrical equipment and more.

What are the economic benefits of metal recycling?

Metals recycling supports a major worldwide industry.  Each year in the UK, nearly 10 million tonnes of metal are recycled.  Producing a lot more than is required by domestic markets, up to 90% of metal recycled in the UK is exported for a profit.  This puts the UK among the top five scrap metal exporters in the world.

While the UK economy has slowed, and the steel industry declined, the market for metals manufacturing and exports continue to grow.  In this respect, the recycling industry contributes significantly to the value of the economy.

In addition, because car parts can be salvaged and reused, motorists are provided with a cost-effective way to purchase parts or whole vehicles – another net contribution to the health of the economy.

What are the environmental benefits of metal recycling?

The use of scrap metal – often referred to as ‘secondary raw materials’ – means fewer natural resources (which are finite, precious, and costly to extract) are needed to manufacture new metals.

Around two million cars reach the end of their lifespan every year in the UK.  Until they are dismantled, these old vehicles are considered an environmental hazard due to the potential toxins stored inside their material.

With scrap metal in abundance, it’s important to continue recycling.  The numbers are too significant to ignore.

Up to 95% less energy is consumed in the recycling process as compared to metals manufacture from virgin materials, for example.  According to EU reports, use of recycled metals reduces CO2 emissions by an astonishing 200 million tonnes per year, while use of recycled steel cuts air pollution by 86% and water pollution by 76%.

In summary, metals recycling helps to protect the environment, reduce energy waste, and support a vital workforce.

How much can I earn for my scrap metal?

The amount you can expect to earn for your scrap metal depends largely on the metal’s type.  Ferrous metals, like steel and iron, are generally not worth a great deal, though most establishments will be happy to ensure it is properly recycled.  Non-ferrous metals such as aluminium, brass, bronze, copper and stainless steel tend to be worth a lot more to scrap dealers and recycling centres.

Most establishments will welcome any quantity of metal, but the total pay you receive will be determined by weight.  As a result, a favoured strategy is to collect and stockpile a sizeable amount of scrap before trading in order to increase the total pay received.

Pay will also vary depending on where you take your metal.  Consequently, it’s a good idea to shop around.  Call prospective scrap dealers ahead of time and ask what you can expect to make for the weight of metal you have – this way you ensure the best return for your effort.

How much does scrap metal cost per tonne?

Generally, in the UK, scrap metal is purchased per kilogram or per tonne.  However, scrap dealers and the rates they will pay are at the mercy of worldwide fluctuations in supply and demand which can shift daily.  For this reason, it is often a good idea to call the centre ahead of time to check the day’s rates.  Scrap metal prices are typically high, presenting an opportunity to many.  Yet it’s worth knowing that prices differ from town to town and depending on the quality and type of metal you bring to trade.

The scrap metals which are most profitable and desired tend to include aluminium, brass, copper, iron, lead and stainless steel.

Click here to sell your scrap metal

At ASM Metal Recycling, whether you carry ferrous or non-ferrous metals, we guarantee total weighing accuracy using the most advanced digital scales.  Every customer gets paid exactly what they should, with no exception.

Scrap metal regulations

The scrap metal industry is highly regulated, legally requiring scrap metal dealers to possess a range of licences and permits.

There are two types of licence – a site licence and a collector’s licence.  The law requires all scrap dealers to hold a licence registered with their local authority, but only one.  While they can be issued to a company, a partnership or an individual, it is not allowable to hold both a collector’s and a site licence with the same local council simultaneously.

Regulations also define what can be counted as scrap metal.  Most metal-containing products count.  Gold, silver and any alloy containing 2% of its weight in gold or silver are not considered scrap metal, for example.

Cash payments for scrap

As of October 2013, it has been illegal for anyone to buy or trade in scrap metal using cash.  This provision is covered in the England and Wales Scrap Metal Dealers Act, or SMDA, a renewal and revision of earlier regulatory Acts.

The equivalent law in Scotland is the Air Weapons and Licensing Act of 2015, making it illegal to pay cash for scrap since September 2016.

Other scrap metal regulations

Another requirement for scrap dealers is identity verification of all scrap sellers, usually through a combination of photographic ID and proof of address.  A passport or driving licence should suffice for identification, while accompanying documents can be provided in the form of bank statements, council tax documents or utility bills, for example.

Additionally, operators or scrap sites and collectors of scrap must keep records of metal received and disposed of, who the metal was received from, as well as documents verifying the name, address and payment of the individual.

At ASM Metal Recycling, we’re members of the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) and Road Haulage Association (RHA), with all of our sites fully registered and compliant with the Scrap Metal Dealers Act.  As an approved Contractors Health and Safety Scheme (CHAS) service provider, we pride ourselves on doing everything by the book.

Finding scrap metal near me

As you’ve probably gathered through reading, scrap metal is potentially everywhere, used in all kinds of everyday objects.  Car parts and engines are a rich source of excess scrap, while aluminium and steel food cans are easily found and prepared for sale.

If a profitable hobby is what you’re seeking – or even a side-line career in metal recycling – then your priority should be finding a dependable and regular source of metal.  This is not always the easiest while also guaranteeing quality.

For the safest bet, you should seek a trusted, certified and regulated merchant.  ASM Metal Recycling is one such place, and you can view our recycling services here.