It’s difficult to determine if a metal is valuable or not just by looking at it. Experienced professionals in the scrapping field can often do it, but even they may have trouble with it at times. And with so many types of metal and metal products available for scrapping, the entire metal recycling process can feel intimidating for people who aren’t accustomed to the process. Fortunately, scrapyards and metal buyers want to make the process as easy as possible to handle, which is what this guide will set out to do. Following is a list of metals that Republic Alloys buys, and where they can often be found. Consider it a cheat sheet for determining which metals are valuable enough to hold onto.
Metal buyers and recyclers will take in more than just scrap, but scrap is a major component of a recycler’s operation. What makes scrap so attractive to recyclers is that it can be found everywhere and can be reprocessed into new products at a fraction of the cost of using virgin materials. Even an individual with a truck can often salvage enough scrap to make a living just by approaching businesses that have no need for their metal waste. Scrap is that valuable.
But what scrap is worth the effort? Here are the most common scrap metals that metal buyers are looking for:
- Copper – Perhaps the king of all scrap metals is copper. While copper isn’t particularly rare, it is extremely useful in a range of applications, including many home construction applications, so people are always looking for it. Copper tends to offer the best bang for the buck, and is prized as an electrical conductor and as a metal used in plumbing applications.
The most difficult thing about scrapping copper is that it can be classified in so many ways, and each is valued differently. Some of those classifications include:
- #1 bright bare copper wire, which consists of unalloyed, uncoated copper that isn’t attached to anything. It is among the most valuable forms of copper scrap and can be found in electronics and in home wiring.
- #1 copper tubing, which consists of unalloyed, uncoated copper plumbing pipe or buss bars that are not fitted with any attachments. This tubing is normally left over after construction projects.
- #1 flashing copper, which refers to uncoated, unalloyed copper used in house flashing. The flashing is placed around windows or anywhere else water might infiltrate the home. Again, it’s normally left over from construction projects.
- #2 copper tubing, which is like #1 copper tubing, but might be coated with tin or fixed with brass fittings.
- Mix copper, which usually consists of unsorted tubing and roofing copper, and may also be covered in paint or solder.
- #3 roofing copper, which is like other roofing copper, but may be marred with things like tar or nails.
Before throwing away appliances or electronics, always check for copper, especially in items like televisions and computers, which often have larger pieces of the metal in addition to copper wiring.
- Brass – Brass, though not quite as valuable as copper, is still valuable in significant quantities and can also be found in many places. Brass is easy to identify visually, as there aren’t too many substances that offer the lustrous, gold look that brass does. To verify that it is indeed brass, though, check it with a magnet (to rule out brass-coated steel) and test its hardness, which can be done with a file. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, and the more copper there is in the metal, the harder it will be. Copper content in brass can range from 50 to 95 percent, and the more copper, the more valuable it will be.Brass can be found around the home, as it is used in a variety of fittings, like cabinet knobs, doorknobs and sinks. It can also be found in plumbing tubes, radiators, heater cores and even as a form of wiring, though this is somewhat rare. It can even be found in spent ammunition casings.
- Aluminum – Aluminum is an attractive option to scrappers because it is abundant and easy to process. And because recycled aluminum can be reprocessed using much less energy, it is desirable in any form. Beyond aluminum cans, which are usually acquired in bulk, aluminum can be found in car bumpers, engine blocks, radiators and wheel rims. It is a popular form of house siding and entire boats can be made from the metal. Processing a boat involves removing all non-aluminum items, like seats.Aluminum is a nonferrous metal, so it does not attract a magnet. It is a low density metal, so it is also low in weight, and it is an excellent insulator, so it can withstand a great deal of heat without becoming too hot to handle. Using these properties, aluminum can be readily identified.
- Iron and steel – Ferrous metals aren’t as valuable as nonferrous items, but they are still worth scrapping if there is a lot available. Ferrous metals refer to iron and steel (which is an alloy of iron and carbon) and are extremely abundant. Both are used extensively in building, ship and vehicle construction. Because they are ferrous, they are attracted to magnets, and with nothing but a simple magnet on hand, a scrapper can easily identify any ferrous materials.
- Gold, silver and platinum – These materials have intrinsic value in any form they are in, though they do have some important functions. Gold, for example is also an adept electrical conductor and platinum is used in a variety of medical tools. Scrapping precious metals is a bit tougher than just wheeling scrap to the yard, though, and requires a dedicated expert to assist in the process.
In addition to various forms of scrap, some rare and valuable metals can be salvaged from used sputtering targets. Sputtering is an industrial process that uses charged particles to erode other particles from a source piece of metal (known as the sputtering target) and deposit them on another surface, which is usually a film. Once the process is complete, the film is coated in the metal, which offers the desired physical and chemical properties. Occasionally, rare metals are used in sputtering, and two that are prized for recycling purposes are tantalum and niobium.
Tantalum is a transition metal that is bluish grey in color and is both hard and rare. Tantalum is sought after because it is highly resistant to corrosion and chemically inert, making it safe to use in a variety of medical applications. In fact, it is often used as a substitute for platinum with manufacturing dental and medical tools. Tantalum is so durable that at temperatures below 150 degrees Fahrenheit, it can resist action even from aqua regia, which is capable of dissolving nearly anything. And its heat resistance is also impressive, as its melting point is at 3,017 Celsius. With these notable physical properties, tantalum is an ideal metal for use in making strong alloys. Its primary use, though, is in capacitors, where it can withstand the stress of conducting electricity. Tantalum capacitors are used in a variety of consumer electronics, including smartphones, computers, DVD players and video game consoles.
Niobium is chemically similar to tantalum, and the two are often found near each other in nature. In fact, the name of tantalum comes from a figure in Greek mythology, Tantalus. Niobium is derived from the name Niobe, who was Tantalus’s daughter.
Niobium is soft and grey, and exhibits the same excellent heat resistance that Tantalum does. Niobium is primary used in steel alloy creations, though such alloys never contain more than 0.1 percent of the metal. Even at this low concentration, though, niobium can stabilize such alloys when placed under extreme temperatures. Due to this property, niobium-steel alloys are often built into jet engines and gas pipelines, where high heat and corrosion are expected. Niobium can also be found in various superconductors, including superconductor magnets that are installed in MRI machines.
Both tantalum and niobium are extremely valuable, due to their rarity. These metals only make up one to two parts per million of the Earth’s crust, so recycling them is of the utmost importance.
Of course, metal recycling is of massive importance in general, as recycled materials can be processed using much less energy and with much less raw material. And instead of throwing out that metal waste for nothing, a scrapper will happily take the metal and ensure that it remains in the production cycle.