Can I really make money off metal recycling?

Knowing what can and cannot be recycled is a must for anyone wanting to live a green life, and some items are more recyclable than others. Metal is one of the most easily recycled materials. Almost all types of metals can be recycled into new materials including steel, aluminum, copper, brass, zinc, iron, and tin. What’s more, a person can actually make a little money bringing metal items to scrap metal facilities. How much money? That’s what I’d like to find out.

First, are there any metals than cannot be recycled? Only the ones containing hazardous materials like uranium and plutonium, which you likely won’t find in household products, and anything containing mercury or lead. That means metal is by far one of the most recyclable items out there. The properties do not change in the recycling process which makes metal very sustainable.

The metal recycling process is very interesting. Ferrous (magnetic) vs nonferrous (aluminum, copper, etc.) metal items are separated. From there, the items are shredded into smaller pieces. It’s then melted down, purified, and then allowed to cool where it will then be transported to manufacturers and made into new materials. Pretty much any scrap metal can be collected from coat hangers, to utensils, to old cars, and there’s money to be made.

For a person wanting to scrap metal, follow these steps:

  1. Separate the ferrous from the non-ferrous metals using a magnet.
  2. Clean the metal and remove any attachments and food residue.
  3. Bring to local scrap yard.
  4. Do a little research about the value first to make sure you’re getting the best price.

Just a side note: make sure you’re following all safety protocols and handling sharp edges and corroded items with care. Also, to get the most money make sure you’ve separated each type of metal into categories. For instance, don’t mix your aluminum cans with copper. And do a little research about how much you should make. Copper is one of the most valuable metals you can recycle, and aluminum is one of the most common. You can check scrap metal prices at ScrapMonster, and here’s a rough overview:

Metal TypePrice
Steel$0.50 to $1.30
Aluminum$0.65 to $1.07
Copper$2.13 to $2.43
Stainless Steel$0.32 to $1.64
Brass$1.59 to $1.76
Lead$0.41 to $0.73

I decided to look up local metal scrappers in my area to get a better idea of what they take and how much I can make, and I also reached out to my friends for general advice and this is what I’ve learned. You need a photo ID and cash is given up to $500 at one local scrap yard. They also had a big list of items they don’t take including cars without a title, anything hazardous, CFCs, PCBs, cylinders and containers of compressed gas, rechargeable batteries, lead iron pipes, sealed containers, anything liquid or flammable, trash, cracked or leaking batteries, office machines, shopping cars, new steel, railroad materials, and unidentifiable items.

a person driving a shabby car carrying metal scraps

I asked several friends about their experiences and most of the feedback was positive. The general consensus was that unless you’re bringing in high yield metals like copper or large amounts of aluminum cans, the pay is not worth the effort. It sounds like copper and brass are more worth the trouble than trying to save up large amounts of aluminum cans.

My friend's haul of copper.

All in all, I probably won’t make the effort to scrap my own metal as long as I’m paying for recycling services, but if I ever have my own upcycling/trash business someday, knowing I can make a little money on the metal, is reassuring.

Published by That Hippie Looking Chick

I'm a traveler, adventurer, upcycler, and bus dweller.

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