Scrap Metal Recycling: A Lucrative and Eco-Friendly Endeavor

The Value of Recycling Metal

Scrap metal recycling is a highly valuable endeavor. With numerous types of metals to recycle, it can be challenging to distinguish between reliable and unreliable information. Understanding which metals are recyclable and where to take them can have both literal and figurative payoffs.

Recycling centers near you often pay a good price for aluminum, copper, steel, and more. The key is knowing how to classify recyclable metals and finding a reputable scrap yard in your area. Luckily, Recycling Center Near Me is here to help answer some of the most popular questions related to scrap metal recycling.

Let’s explore how to dispose of metal waste, whether you need a license to do so, how to separate metals for recycling, the benefits of recycling metals, and much more, including tips and recommendations for recycling scrap metal and finding the best scrap items.

Even better, as you become familiar with the recycling landscape, you can discover the most efficient way to scrap and make good money in the process!

How to Dispose of Metal Waste

When it comes to disposing of metal waste, recycling is often the most environmentally friendly option. Metal recycling saves more energy than any other form of recycling, making it a significant energy-saving choice. Compared to producing new materials, recycling aluminum, lead, and steel require 94%, 75%, and 72% less energy, respectively.

Determining the best way to dispose of your metal waste depends on the type and quantity of metal you have. In some cases, recycling the material from home is the appropriate solution, while in others, taking the metal waste to a scrap yard may be the best option.

Start by identifying your recyclable metals. For instance, aluminum cans (such as those used for soda, beer, and other beverages) are generally 100% recyclable. Many cities and states have cash-for-cans programs, which make recycling aluminum cans a breeze.

Other food containers, such as coffee cans, baking utensils, and cans used for canned fruits and vegetables, are all recyclable. Just be sure to clean them thoroughly before recycling.

Similarly, if you have extra metal hangers in the house, they may not be recyclable in your local blue bin, but you can take them to a local dry cleaner; they may offer discounts or cash programs for your extra hangers.

Other household items made of brass, copper, or other metals can also be recyclable. While they may not be items you can put in your blue recycling bin, they are items you can take to a local scrap yard, including old door handles, lamps, and more. Even air conditioners, TV trays, plumbing, gutters, and other metal odds and ends from the house can often be disposed of.

How to Separate Metals for Recycling

Most scrap yards and recycling centers require you to separate metals. Start by separating ferrous metals from non-ferrous metals.

The easiest way to do this is by using a magnet; a refrigerator magnet will do. Test whether the metal sticks to it. If the magnet adheres, the metal is ferrous. Ferrous metals include steel and iron, and while they may not be valuable, scrap yards will still take them for proper recycling.

If the metal does not stick, it is non-ferrous. Non-ferrous metals include copper, aluminum, brass, tin, nickel, and stainless steel. Taking them to your scrap metal recycler can fetch you a decent payment.

If you’re unsure about the type of metal you have, your local scrap yard will know. When it comes to the types of metals accepted, it varies among local scrap recycling centers. However, some tips can help:

  • Clean your metals. For food items, make sure you have thoroughly washed the cans. Remove labels as well. Clean metals often fetch higher prices, as it saves the scrap yard some extra work.
  • Avoid mixing other materials with your scrap. If, for example, you have recyclable paper or cardboard materials mixed with your metals, it can sometimes result in the entire pile being rejected.
  • Check local guidelines and scrap yard prices. Aluminum, brass, and copper often have a rate that can quickly add up at a scrap yard, but sometimes it may not be worth disposing of other metals, so you should recycle them.
  • Recycle your wiring. While copper wiring, for example, does not need to be stripped, peeling the wires before taking them to a scrap yard often earns you two or three times more money. Wire strippers can range from $10 to $100, but it’s often worth the investment if you’re disposing of a significant amount of wiring.
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Recycling copper near me
Image: Copper Wire

Copper is one of the most valuable scrap metals out there. You can get more for it by removing any copper wire you have before taking it to the scrap yard. Wire strippers are handy for this task and also work with aluminum wires. Copper wire is commonly found in electrical systems, often covered with black plastic insulation.

Other forms of copper stand out due to their reddish color. This indicates that the metal is in good condition. If it is greenish or has areas of dark brown color, it is likely worn out. Besides wires, you can find copper in pipes, gutters, and indoor air conditioners. Consider recycling the next time you work on your home.

Be cautious when doing any remodeling with copper pipes or cables. Ensure your workers keep the materials secure when not in use. Copper pipes and cables are commonly stolen from construction sites or home renovation sites due to their high value.


Most people know that aluminum cans can be recycled, but they may be less informed about aluminum scrap. In addition to soda cans, other forms of this recyclable metal include those painted white or silver. Aluminum is easy to bend and is often found in sidings, gutters, window frames, and other parts of the house. Once again, the next time you do some work at home, consider taking a moment to check whether any of your materials contain recyclable aluminum.

Aluminum is not as valuable as copper, but it is still worth recycling. At the very least, any recycling you do is helpful to your community and the planet as a whole. Even if you don’t get paid much or at all, you can still do some good by recycling any aluminum you have.


Recycling brass near me
Image: Brass Tube

Brass is often found in lamps, locks, keys, hardware, and metal decorations. There are over 60 types of brass, and it can come in various colors depending on the other metals used during production. If in doubt, contact your local scrap recycling center for more information.


Recycling steel near me
Image: Recycling Steel Rods

Steel is easy to identify. If you have any doubts, the magnet test will clarify it for you because magnets easily stick to steel. Steel can be part of construction materials such as reinforcing bars, but it can also be found in chairs, furniture, and cabinets. You may not obtain much value by recycling it, but throwing it in regular trash can be a mistake since it is an excellent material to recycle.

10 Facts About Scrap Metal Recycling

  1. Recycling one ton of steel saves 2500 pounds of iron ore, over 1000 pounds of coal, and 40 pounds of limestone.
  2. Steel is the most recycled material in the United States.
  3. Canned fruits and vegetables often use steel cans, while beverage cans typically use aluminum cans.
  4. Aluminum cans not only require 90% less energy when recycled compared to primary production, but recycled products can be back on the shelves within 6 months. And, if for some reason they are not recycled, they decompose much faster in landfills than plastic bottles, which can take 450 years or more.
  5. Scrap metal can be used for construction projects, creating transportation options such as bicycles and cars.
  6. Scrap metal can be melted at a much lower temperature than new metal, contributing to energy savings.
  7. Each year, enough ferrous scrap is recycled by weight to build the Golden Gate Bridge over 900 times.
  8. A typical wind turbine contains up to 5 tons of copper, an average house 200 pounds or more, and a computer approximately 4 pounds.
  9. Scrap metal is a massive industry; in 2015, over 130 million metric tons of material were recycled by scrapyards.
  10. In some states, aluminum cans can earn you money. Bottle bills in 10 states mean that cans can be returned for a deposit, usually five cents per can. That adds up quickly!

Do You Need a License for Scrap Metal?

Scrap metal recycling can be an excellent way to earn money. However, in some places and cases, you may need a license. Let’s explore why a scrap metal license is required.

First, scrap metal sellers may need a commercial license as vendors, even if they don’t sell much. This is to ensure that local municipalities can collect sales taxes and help ensure that scrap metal dealers are legitimate, especially since copper cables have become a more common target for thieves. It’s a good idea to reach out to the local town hall or county auditor’s office to determine if you need a license.

If you’re working on a larger scale, such as a scrap metal trader, you will most likely need a commercial license. But again, you should verify this with local authorities. Similarly, if you operate a recycling center or a scrap yard that buys and sells, you should look into both commercial licenses and supplier licenses (for resale) to ensure compliance with local tax regulations.

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However, consult with local authorities to determine what licenses you may need for your scrap metal purposes.

Is Scrap Metal Collection Legal?

One of the most common questions regarding scrap metal recycling and collection is whether it is legal or not.

Like so many other industries, the scrap metal industry has many legal gray areas. As waste material theft has increased nationwide (particularly when it comes to copper cables and other high-value items), laws have emerged to help prevent such thefts.

Consequently, you should keep the following in mind:

  • If you are selling large quantities of copper cables or pipes, be aware that you may be viewed with suspicion. If your vehicle makes it clear that you work in a business that has a legitimate reason to collect large amounts of those materials at once (such as contracting or electrical work, for example), that’s one thing. But otherwise, you may want to have paperwork.
  • The same goes for any copper, really. Because copper is a high-value target for thieves, if you have found large amounts of copper through reliable means, it’s good to have documentation to prove it, even if it’s just a note from owners who allowed you to collect it.
  • Air conditioning units also pose difficulties. Scrap yards will not accept air conditioning units that still contain Freon. Disposing of Freon, something many people do, is a toxic hazard and can result in hefty fines courtesy of the EPA. As a result, sometimes the best option is to subcontract a licensed HVAC contractor to drain the Freon or simply sell them the unit(s) as scrap.
  • Automotive parts can also create challenges. While some parts (such as the catalytic converter, for example) can be valuable when discarded, some states are now passing laws requiring you to be an automotive professional to sell scrap car parts. Be sure to check the regulations in your area.

Ultimately, it is up to you to know the regulations in your area. Do your research and be smart.

The Benefits of Recycling Metal

Of course, there is more to metal recycling than just selling it as scrap. For example, as mentioned earlier, recycling aluminum, lead, and steel require 94%, 75%, and 72% less energy, respectively, compared to producing new materials. And the list of things that can be recycled is almost endless!

Among other everyday metal items, the following are excellent items to consider recycling: cans (aluminum and steel), cutlery, old pots and pans, appliances, desks and chairs, school and sports lockers, zippers, pipes, cables, and more. The energy savings add up even faster than you think.

Recycling a single aluminum can, for example, can save enough energy to power a television for three hours—a particularly astonishing piece of information considering the amount of aluminum discarded every year in just the United States would be enough to rebuild the entire commercial airline fleet four times over!

Not all metals we use daily are unlimited resources. Metals can heavily rely on energy for their development and production, whereas recycling old metals requires only a fraction of that energy expenditure. Without recycled metal, many of our daily metal uses, including commuting to school or work by bus or car, for example, might not be affordable.

All that adds up to the benefit of potentially earning some extra money by disposing of money if you also know what you’re doing!

Can I Sell Scrap Metal?

Yes! And in some cases, you definitely should.

Of course, determining which scrap metal to sell depends largely on your circumstances. Different scrap yards offer different prices, so be sure to call multiple yards, get prices for each metal you have, and confirm how long the yard will honor the quoted prices. It is also important to be specific about the quantities of each metal you have.

The truth is, most scrapyards are more accustomed to dealing with clients in industries that handle large amounts of metals on a daily or near-daily basis, such as construction or renovation companies.

However, that doesn’t mean you are unwelcome – it just means you may need to research and know what questions to ask to find the best prices. Many scrapyards will gladly purchase your scrap, and by taking your scrap metal to scrapyards, you can earn some money while also preventing the metal from ending up in landfills.

Additionally, some scrapyards offer pickup services. If that’s something you’re interested in, include it when requesting quotes and factor it into your calculations when determining which yards to sell to.

Where to Sell Recycled Metals

No matter where you live, it is highly likely that there are scrap yards near you. And there are good ways to find those scrap yards; for example, the iScrap app provides an online directory where you can find nearby scrap yards that accept ferrous and non-ferrous metals.

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The iScrap app can also provide information about scrap prices and locate steel scrap facilities that can help with recycling electronics, car recycling, and proper disposal of construction materials such as copper pipes, aluminum, copper, and other types of scrap metal.

Tips for Scrap Metal Recycling

Hopefully, all this information so far is helping you determine the best ways to recycle and scrap.

Likewise, consider these scrap metal recycling tips:

  • Check metal prices online. It’s worth trying to scrap certain metals more than others, so do your due diligence even before sorting.
  • Almost all metals are recyclable, but not everywhere. Again, do your due diligence to determine what is recyclable or disposable in your area. Different places have different recycling capabilities.

Consider the following tips to better prioritize scrap metal recycling:

  • Determine whether your metal is ferrous or non-ferrous. Do this by testing it with a magnet: if a magnet sticks to the metal, it is ferrous. If it doesn’t stick, it’s non-ferrous.
  • Ferrous metals include steel and iron; these metals generally have less value, but most scrapyards will still accept them and ensure proper recycling.
  • Non-ferrous metals include aluminum, brass, bronze, copper, and stainless steel. Many of these metals hold good value, provided you have a scrap yard that wants them and follows their guidelines.
  • Aluminum is most commonly found in soda cans but can also be found in other places due to its relatively low cost, including doors, window frames, gutters, and sidings. Scrap yards tend to buy aluminum in bulk, and while it may not be worth much, it is worth something. Additionally, since recycling aluminum requires 80% less energy, it is definitely worth recycling.
  • Brass is also common in household items, especially in hardware such as door handles, plumbing fixtures, lighting fixtures, and keys, for example. Made from a mixture of copper and zinc, brass can be one of your best scrap metals. While it is not always a high-priced item due to its weight (density), it adds up quickly.
  • Copper is often found in air conditioning units, electrical wiring, gutters, and plumbing. Because copper is extremely valuable to scrap yards, separating it (and stripping wires) can sometimes earn you extra money from scrapyards that appreciate the additional work you put in.
  • Steel is as common as aluminum and, just like aluminum, is rarely worth much unless you have a large quantity. That being said, it still offers significant energy savings when recycled, so even if it doesn’t make you much money, it’s worth taking it to a scrap yard or recycling facility.

The Best Items to Scrap for Money

As you can see from above, the top items to scrap are copper and brass. While copper offers the best value (and finding old copper cables can be a decent way to make money, for example), brass quickly adds up due to its density.

Beyond that, though, you can do much better the more you know and the better prepared you are. Speaking of that research: the more you do, the better you can negotiate the best prices for yourself. Not only can you call and compare prices (as well as how long each yard will honor those prices), but the more you know what you have, the better you can assess whether you’re getting fair market rates for those metals. For instance, #1 copper is significantly more valuable than #2 copper, but if you don’t know the difference, or what you have, a scrap yard is much more likely to offer you the lower #2 copper price.

Similarly, the more significant the load you can bring to the scrap yard, the more likely you will be able to negotiate a good price. After all, large companies scrapyards deal with often negotiate their rates. You’re more likely to have that power if you have a huge trailer full of aluminum, for example, than a box full of cans.

Along the same lines, separate your metals properly. First, sort ferrous metals from non-ferrous metals, and then sort more specifically from there. Sort your ferrous metals into steel, iron, wrought iron, and cast iron, for example, and your non-ferrous scrap into aluminum, brass, copper, and gold. (And if you can sort further than that, such as separating copper grades, for example, do it).

Lastly, call around. I know we’ve said it before, but calling will help ensure you get the best price. And don’t assume larger scrapyards can offer you better prices; sometimes, smaller yards are more willing to work for your business. Metals are recyclable and doing your part reduces the amount of steel scrap worldwide.


Recycling scrap metal is not only financially rewarding but also ecologically beneficial. By reusing valuable resources, we save energy, reduce waste, and contribute to a more sustainable future. So, the next time you come across scrap metal, consider recycling it and reap the rewards – both for your wallet and the environment.

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