How to Recycle Scrap Metal

Scrap metal is one of the most valuable materials you can recycle, and it encompasses so many consumer products. From appliances to batteries to cans to clothes hangers, metal is everywhere in our homes. Recycling metal is important to not only keep this limited supply material out of landfills, but also because it can make you money.

Metal Recycling Preparation

  1. With scrap metal, the general rule is a product needs to be at least 50 percent metal. Even if that metal is surrounded by other materials like plastic, it’s worth recycling if it’s made mostly out of metal.
  2. If you have products with only a small amount of metal but it’s easy to remove, separate the metal. For example, a plastic three-ring binder is not scrap metal, but remove the metal rings and now you’re talking.
  3. Scrap metal is classified as either ferrous (containing iron, such as steel) and nonferrous (everything else). So, you’ll want to identify whether your metal is ferrous or nonferrous. The way to do this is with a magnet. Ferrous metals stick to a magnet; nonferrous metals don’t.
  4. Use Earth911’s recycling directory to find a scrap metal recycler, and contact the company or visit its webpage to find out current payouts and if there’s a minimum amount of material you need to bring.
  5. Most scrap metal recyclers will require you to bring identification when you recycle. This is to prevent people from stealing scrap metal (e.g., road signs, metal barriers) and selling it for scrap.

Find scrap metal drop-off locations near you using our Recycling Locator.

Why Recycle Metal

  • Metal is one of the few items that you can regularly recycle for money, although you’ll usually get paid by the pound. This makes it a great fundraising opportunity.
  • Nonferrous scrap makes up only 10 percent of the total material recycled in the U.S., but it earns more than half of scrap recycling revenue.
  • Metal is in limited supply, and while we can manufacture more glass and plastic from natural resources, we can’t make more aluminum, copper and steel.

Find Recycling Guides for Other Materials

Frequent Metal Recycling Questions

Can I recycle scrap metal in my curbside recycling program?

Most cities will only accept metal cans (aluminum and steel) in the curbside recycling program. Other metals are only collected curbside if your city provides bulky waste pick-up. You’ll need to call to schedule this pick-up and tell the hauler what you have — bulky waste pick-up usually accepts miscellaneous scrap (e.g., ironing boards, aluminum bats, silverware) as well as large scrap (e.g., appliances and electronics).

What types of metals can I recycle?

Common forms of nonferrous metal include aluminum, brass, copper, lead, nickel, stainless steel, tin and zinc. These are used to make musical instruments, wires and pipe, auto parts, keys, silverware and a variety of other products. Ferrous metal includes steel, commonly featured in household appliances.

How much money can I earn by recycling metal?

This all depends on the amount you have, as most scrap metal recyclers pay by the pound. Also, nonferrous metals are more valuable than ferrous metals. The most valuable metal parts you could recycle would be automotive (e.g., engines, batteries) that are almost entirely made of metal and very bulky. If you’re looking to recycle lighter items like cans or coat hangers, it’s best to wait until you have a large amount to optimize payment.

How is scrap metal recycled?

All metals eventually end up at a scrap metal yard, where they are separated by type. The metals are then crushed and compacted, non-metal components (such as plastics) are removed, and everything left is melted in a furnace into metal sheets. This metal is then used to make new metal products.

What are reuse options for metal?

If you have clothes hangers, you can take them to a dry cleaner for reuse. Many secondhand stores will accept and resell metal furniture, even if it’s in need of repair. You can also donate working appliances if they are not too old.

Are there any states that require metal recycling?

The only state laws regarding scrap metal recycling involve payment and identification requirements. However, if your metal has electronic components (like a computer), half of U.S. states will mandate recycling. If you’re looking for a certification standard for scrap metal recyclers, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) provides a national certification and searchable directory of certified recyclers.

Additional Reading

Metal Recycling

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Looking to recycle scrap metal in your area? Use the Earth911 recycling search to find a recycling location near you.