How Does Scrap Metal Recycling Work?

How Does Scrap Metal Recycling Work

Metals are recycled repeatedly without the risk of altering their properties. Steel is a commonly recycled material around the world. Other metals that are highly recycled include gold, brass, silver, copper and aluminum.

But how does scrap metal recycling work? That’s what we’ll explore in this article!

Reasons for Recycling Metals

Metals are highly valuable materials that have the ability to be recycled over and over again without their properties being degraded.

  • The value of scrap metal motivates individuals to collect it and sell it to recyclers.
  • Along with the financial incentives, an environmental need also exists. Recycling metals makes it possible to preserve natural resources and requires less energy for processing than manufacturing new products by using raw virgin materials.
  • Recycling releases less harmful gases, including carbon dioxide. It saves money and enables manufacturers and businesses to lower their production costs.
  • The industry creates jobs.

Types of Metals

Metals are generally classified as non-ferrous or ferrous. Ferrous metals contain combination of iron and carbon. Cast iron, wrought iron, alloy steel and carbon steel are examples of common ferrous metals. Non-ferrous metals consist of tin, zinc, lead, copper and aluminum. Precious metals such as palladium, iridium, silver, platinum and gold are non-ferrous.


The collection process is different from other materials due to the higher value of scrap metal. Subsequently, it is more likely for the metals to be sold to scrap yards rather than sending them to landfills. Scrap vehicles are among the largest sources of ferrous metals.

Other sources include consumer scrap, farm equipment, ships, railroad tracks and steel structures. Prompt scrap is created while manufacturing new products and accounts for a substantial percentage of the supply of ferrous scrap.


Sorting consists of separating metals from the stream of mixed scrap metal or stream of mixed material waste. Sensors and magnets are used in automatic recycling operations to aid the separation of materials.

Scrappers at the entrepreneurial level may also use a magnet to observe the weight or color of the material to determine the type of metal. Scrappers can enhance the value of materials by separating clean metal from dirty metal.


Metals are shredded to enable further processing. Shredding is performed to promote the process of melting since small shredded metal can be melted with relatively less energy due to the large surface to volume ratio. Aluminum is usually transformed into small sheets while steel is converted into steel blocks.


A large furnace is used for the purpose of melting scrap metal. Specific furnaces are used for each metal as furnaces are designed to melt certain metals. This step requires a considerable amount of energy. However, the energy that is required to recycle and melt metals is much less than what is needed or producing metals from virgin raw materials. Melting can last for varying periods of time depending on the volume of the metal, level of heat of the furnace and the size of the furnace.


Purification ensures that the final product is free of contaminants and high quality.


Melted metals are transported by the conveyor belt after purification for the purpose of cooling and solidifying the metals.


Scrap metal recycling plays a crucial role in sustaining both industry and the environment by maintaining metal properties throughout its cycle, from collection to solidification. The meticulous steps involved not only uphold the integrity of metals but also reduce energy consumption, emissions, and resource strain.

Understanding how scrap metal recycling works reveals a system that harmonizes industry, innovation, and ecological responsibility, steering us toward a greener and more sustainable future.

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Paul Tomaszewski is a science & tech writer as well as a programmer and entrepreneur. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of CosmoBC. He has a degree in computer science from John Abbott College, a bachelor's degree in technology from the Memorial University of Newfoundland, and completed some business and economics classes at Concordia University in Montreal. While in college he was the vice-president of the Astronomy Club. In his spare time he is an amateur astronomer and enjoys reading or watching science-fiction. You can follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

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