Metal waste/scrap waste can be subjected to the recycling process over and over again without changing its properties. Steel, for example, is one of the most recycled metals on the planet. Other metals that are highly recyclable include aluminium, brass, copper, silver and of course, gold.
It means that as well as helping the companies that produce it to contribute to a better environment.
Recycling metal waste helps to preserve limited, dwindling resources. It also contributes to minimising global warming as the recycling process emits less carbon dioxide than mining and processing new metal.
Because of the importance of scrap metal and its recycling, the government introduced the Scrap Metal Dealer Act (SMDA) 2013. One of the key elements of the act was to outlaw scrap being sold for cash. Cash transactions are not traceable, and traceability is one of the essential factors of an efficient metal recycling system.
Another important clause in the SMDA is that all companies selling scrap metal have to be identified and verified by their scrap metal dealers.
As a generalisation, metal waste/scrap waste is split into two categories – ferrous and non-ferrous. Ferrous metals are those that combine iron and carbon. Examples of ferrous metals include things like alloy steel, carbon steel, cast iron and wrought iron.
Non-ferrous metals, on the other hand, include aluminium, copper, lead, tin, and zinc. Most of the more common precious metals are also classified as being non-ferrous. These include gold, iridium, palladium, platinum, and silver.
Businesses that produce only a small amount of metal waste will typically store the waste in a skip. Skips come in various sizes and are usually loaned to scrap metal producers for free as part of the contract.
For businesses that produce large volumes of scrap, roll-off bins are the usual type of containers used. Non-ferrous metals are typically put into special forklift bins. Businesses that produce seriously large volumes of scrap metal often install hydraulic balers on their premises.
Some producers of metal waste will sort the various types of metals and store them in sperate containers awaiting collection. More often than not this does not happen, and it is left up to the scrap metal dealer to sort back at their premises. Automated recycling set-ups will often employ magnets and sensors to help then with the sorting process.
Another thing that dealers use to help them with sorting is to identify the metals by colour or sometimes weight. Aluminium, for example, looks silver in colour and is relatively lightweight. Copper, on the other hand, looks yellowish, while brass is more red/yellow.
The next stage in the recycling operation is to shred the metal. It makes it much easier to handle. The other main advantage of shredding the scrap is that it makes it easier to melt. This is because small pieces of scrap metal have large surface to area volumes. Making it easier to melt also carries another advantage. It consumes less energy. The norm is that scrap steel is cut into small sheets while steel is converted into blocks.
The next step in the recycling process is melting. The scrap metal is introduced into big furnaces. Each type of metal has its own individual furnace. It is this step that uses most of the energy. Even so, the amount of energy used is still significantly less than the energy needed to create virgin metals from scratch.
After melting comes purification and solidifying. Purification is carried out to make sure that the final product of the process is high quality and contaminant free. The most common method of purification used by many companies is electrolysis.
The solidifying stage is where the molten metal is carried away by conveyor belts to allow it to cool and thereby solidify.
Businesses in many niches of industry produce metal waste. They include metalworking factories, appliance manufacturers, and home furnishing producers. Some of the largest scrap metal producers are the automobile industry, the aircraft industry and the construction industry.
The metal waste/scrap waste industry is vast. Over 44-million tonnes of scrap is recycled per annum. The UK alone recycles 10-million tonnes. The scrap metal industry as a whole is worth £5 billion.
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