Two Things You Need to Know About Scrap Metal Recycling

Posted by Hugh Wong on March 22, 2019

Scrap metal recycling is a massive industry in North America. Companies process several million tons every year. The purpose is to recover and process scrap metal from end-of-life products, structures, or manufacturing scrap. Scrap metal recycling also prevents the need to mine for original products, which damages the environment in multiple ways.

Scrap metals fall into two categories: ferrous and nonferrous. Ferrous scrap contains iron and includes steel. Nonferrous metals like aluminum- and copper-based alloys do not contain iron.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration states the U.S. processes the following every year:

  • Iron and steel: 56 million tons
  • Copper: 1.5 million tons
  • Aluminum: 2.5 million tons
  • Lead: 1.3 million tons
  • Stainless steel: 800,000 tons
  • Zinc: 300,000 tons

Processing that much scrap metal requires hundreds of thousands of workers. That brings up the first benefit.

Provides Economic Benefits

A study from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) reveals the scrap metal industry generates a massive $117 billion in economic activity including the processing and brokerage of scrap metals and other materials. It comprises 0.63 percent of the nation's total economic activity. How much is that? Its size is equivalent to the automotive repair industry. In 2015 alone, the industry recycled more than 130 million metric tons of materials, turning scrap into useful raw materials to produce new products.

Scrap metal recycling also employs more than 534,000 people who purchase, process, and broker scrap metals. Of those, scrap industry recycling and brokerage operations support more than 155,000 US jobs directly. An informal survey by the Canadian Association of Recycling Industries (CARI) found the Canadian recycling industry directly employs around 34,000 workers and indirectly creates nearly 85,000 more jobs.

Moreover, the United States exported almost $17 billion in scrap products to more than 150 countries in 2016. In 2010, Canadian recyclers exported approximately 5.9 million tons of metal, valued at $3.6 billion (CAD). Other countries use these recycled materials to manufacture new products. This helps reduce greenhouse gases, energy demand, and mining of materials. Thereby, the industry makes a significant contribution to North American trade and the environment on a global scale.

Helps the Environment

Scrap metal recycling does more than bolster the economy. It protects the environment, conserves resources, and increases sustainability. It prevents waste from ending up in landfills and cuts the use of chemicals in ore mining. These chemicals could potentially end up in the water supply. Scrap metal recycling is responsible for more than 120 million tons of recyclable metals every year.

Recycling instead of mining also prevents acid mine drainage and the need to manage dangerous piles of mine tailings. These are a type of rock waste that causes many environmental problems, such as landslides, dust, and leaching. Recycled scrap metal also prevents the environment from risks associated with tailing ponds.

Scrap metal recycling requires less energy than producing metal from ore. For example, U.S. Energy Information Administration points to data that estimates recycling steel expends 60 percent less energy than producing it from ore.

Many people know the value of scrap metal. That's why scrap metal theft continues to be a problem. Thieves steal these metals to resell them for a pretty penny. If you'd like to know how to deter scrap metal theft, please contact us.

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