crushed metal drink cans.
Facts about recycling metal

Metal Recycling Facts and Statistics

Every year it’s estimated that around 400 million tonnes of scrap metal are recycled across the world. This includes everything from aluminium drink cans to steel food tins, copper wiring, and precious metals salvaged from electronic items. Almost all ferrous and non-ferrous metals are recyclable, so few used metals should become waste.

Recycling metals is a lucrative business, as well as benefitting the environment. The global ferrous metal recycling industry is worth around £5 billion, while some estimates claim that non-ferrous metal recycling is worth almost £71 billion. Metal waste recycling of all types is important for homes and businesses around the world.

Discover how much metal we use, waste, and recycle and the impact it has on our planet with these metal waste and recycling facts and statistics.

Examples of metal waste

Metal waste (or scrap metal) is simply any item that’s no longer needed and is made from a metal material. This includes any type of ferrous or non-ferrous metal such as steel, aluminium, iron, copper, zinc, and precious metals like gold and silver. It could be a broken item, empty packaging, or a used product.

Many items are comprised of a mixture of metals or metal and other materials. For a product to be recyclable it must be made from at least 50% metal in most cases. These are some of the most common examples of metal waste:

  • Aluminium drinks cans
  • Steel food tins
  • Copper wire
  • Cast iron bed frame
  • Metal pipes
  • Glasses frame
  • Iron nails
  • Brass borings
  • Aluminium alloys
  • Zinc roofing

What causes waste metal?

Food packaging is one of the main causes of metal waste. Different types of metal are used to create drink cans, food tins, and some fil packaging. It’s also used for other kinds of packaging such as for deodorants, paint tins, and many cleaning products. Once they’re used the packaging becomes waste.

Factories, manufacturing, and construction also create metal waste when using metal materials for various processes. Offcuts and metal swarf are common, while the tools used may become waste if they break or get damaged beyond repair. This includes things like nails, saws, metal hammers and materials.

The auto industry also creates lots of metal waste as many car parts are made from different types of metals. If a car is in an accident or undergoes repairs then many parts removed might be wasted, such as a dented bonnet or damaged alloys. Even empty tins of oil and paint are often waste metal items from garages.

How to reduce metal waste
scrap metal cars.

Metal waste statistics

There are many types of metal used across the world for different purposes. This means most facts and statistics about metal are split into individual types. For example, steel is the most recycled material in the world. Explore more about the different types of metals, their uses, and recyclability with these facts about metal waste:

  • Over 90% of stainless steel is collected and recycled into new products
  • Most metal packaging waste is steel (547,000 tonnes) and aluminium (209,000 tonnes)
  • The average household uses 600 food tins and 380 drink cans each year
  • EU countries recycle 94 million tonnes of scrap metal, which saves around 200 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually
  • The USA recycles 150 million tonnes of scrap metal every year
  • One tonne of smartphones can contain 300 times more gold than one tonne of gold ore
  • 68% of all nickel from consumer products is recycled
  • Almost 40% of the world’s demand for copper is met using recycled material
  • Of all the metals produced in the world:
    • 75% of aluminium is still in use today
    • 70% of steel produced is still in use today
    • 60% of all copper produced since the 1900s is still in use
  • More than half of all lead in circulation today was used in products previously

UK scrap metal facts

The UK creates 10 million tonnes of scrap metal every year – including everything from drinks cans to car parts and pipes. Businesses and households produce a wide array of waste metal every day, which should be recycled where possible. Get a greater understanding of the scale of things with these facts and statistics about UK scrap metal:

  • Only half of all metalis recycled in the UK
  • The UK produces around 7 million tonnes of steel a year
  • Households across the country get through 600 million aerosol cansand nine billion drink cans annually
  • The average household uses 27 aerosols each year – 10 per person per year
  • UK households produce 756,000 tonnes of metal packaging waste each year
  • The good news is that around 574,000 tonnes of metal packaging are recycled – a recycling rate of 76%
  • When buildings are demolished in the UK about 94% of steel is recycled
  • More than 70% of steel packaging is recycled, according to reports from Tata Steel
metal aerosol paint cans.

Scrap metal recycling facts

Most metals have high recycling rates compared to other materials. The likes of steel and aluminium can be endlessly recycled without degrading in quality. Recycling metal saves huge amounts of energy and resources while avoiding the negative impact they can have if metals end up in landfill.

These scrap metal recycling facts should encourage every business and individual to recycle any type of metal waste:

  • Aluminium recycling saves up to 95% of energy compared to creating new aluminium products from raw materials
  • Recycling one tonne of tin or aluminium saves 14,000 kWh of energy
  • Every tonne of steel recycled saves an average of:
    •  1.67 tonnes of CO2
    • 1.5 tonnes of iron ore
    • 0.5 tonnes of coal
    • 40% of water
  • Recycling scrap steel uses 75% less energy to process
  • Over 80% of zinc available for recycling is eventually recycled – and secondary zinc production uses 76% less energy than primary
  • Almost every new car body you encounter is made up of around 25% recycled steel
  • Scrapping a car saves 55kg of limestone, 635kg of coal, and 1134kg of iron ore – almost two tonnes of raw material
  • Recycling copper instead of extracting it from mined copper ore reduces CO2 emissions by 65%

Metal can recycling facts

One of the biggest sources of metal waste is empty drink cans. Most of these are made from aluminium or steel, which is 100% recyclable and can be turned into new cans almost endlessly. Here are a few facts about recycling metal cans:

  • Recycling a single aluminium can saves enough energy to run a computer for 3 hours
  • It’s quick to recycle an aluminium can – in as little as two months it can be recycled and returned to shop shelves in another form
  • Tin cans take about 50 years to decompose, whereas an aluminium can may take 200 to 500 years to break down
  • Recycling seven cans saves enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for 26 hours
  • An aluminium can could be recycled eight times a year, saving enough energy to produce 160 new cans
drinks in metal cans on sale in a shop.

How should I get rid of scrap metal?

Always recycle metal where possible. Most metal packaging such as food tins, drink cans, and foil trays can be disposed of in household recycling bins, bags, or containers. Clean and dry them to remove any contaminants and double-check check your local authority accepts these items before disposal.

For any bigger and other types of scrap metal, you might be able to take them to your local household waste recycling centre (HWRC). Alternatively, arrange collection of your scrap metal by a licensed waste carrier. This ensures it’s removed legally and should be recycled responsibly whatever the type of metal.

At Business Waste we can collect all sorts of waste metal from businesses and some homes anywhere in the UK. For companies, we can provide free bins to store your metal waste – including compactors and balers for high volumes of empty drink cans. There are no rental or delivery fees, you just pay for collection.

Licensed waste carriers remove your metal waste and take it to a nearby recycling facility for sorting, recovery, and recycling. We can also help with ad hoc removals of large metal items or high volumes from organisations and some homes. Get a free quote today or speak to our team for any help – call 0800 211 8390 or contact us online.

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