How Is Scrap Metal Processed?

Have you ever looked out at the rusty hull of an old ship or the empty skeleton of an old car and wondered where all that metal ends up? Does it pile up in landfills like so many empty milk cartons and banana peels? The truth might surprise you. The scrap metal industry is booming in the United States. In the year 2010, the scrap metal recycling industry processed 130 million metric tons of scrap materials, valued at more than $77 billion. Additionally, it employs over 110,000 workers and is one of the country's largest exports. But you might wonder how scrap metal recycling works.

The metal recycling process starts with collection. Scrap metal dealers and collectors or even the odd consumer brings their excess metal to a scrap yard. The first step in the process is separation. The metal must first be separated because non-ferrous steel and ferrous steel recycling requires two separate processes and also because there are metal products that can't be recycled. Automated recycling centers have specialized tools to do this that involve magnets and sensors.

Ferrous Metals

The simple difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is that ferrous metals contain some combination of iron and carbon and non-ferrous metals contain no iron. However, it's a bit more complicated than that and each type has different properties that make up the characteristics of the metal and require different types of processing. One major characteristic of ferrous metal is that it's magnetic. A simple test to figure out which type of metal you have is to put a small magnet to it and see if it sticks. If it does, it's ferrous. Ferrous metals include steel, carbon steel, alloy steel, cast iron, and wrought iron.

The first step in processing ferrous metals is sorting the metal into different types. Then the metal may be squashed to reduce space before being shredded. Shredding involves breaking down the metal further into smaller pieces, blocks, or sheets. Once the shredding has been done, foreign media can be separated out of it. The next step in processing ferrous metal is shearing it. Once that step has been completed, it can be baled or collected in bundles.

Non-Ferrous Metals

As mentioned, non-ferrous metals don't contain iron. Brass, zinc, tin, copper, lead, and aluminum are all non-ferrous metals as well as precious metals like gold and silver. The process for recycling non-ferrous metals differs from ferrous. After separation from the ferrous metals, the non-ferrous metals are sorted into types. Media separation happens at this point, a bit earlier in the process than ferrous metals. Any leftover foreign matter, anything that can't be recycled and processed once the metal has been sorted, is removed. Then the shearing process begins. At this point, the non-ferrous metal would be baled and finally melted for reuse.

Find a good recycling center, like Beartown  Recycling, to help you with your scrap metal.