From drinks cans to machine parts and computer components, there is plenty of scope for the recycling and reuse of metal in all industries. Across the globe each year some 400 million tonnes of metal is recycled each year and in the UK it has created an industry that is worth over £5.5 billion per annum, employing thousands of people. Metal, as long as it can be extracted, is one of the easiest materials to recycle and it can help reduce costs for many areas of manufacturing and production.
Recycling saves a large amount on the energy used from making product from virgin sources. If you take into account the amount of work that is needed to remove metals from the ground, it makes sense to make the most of what we have.
Reconstituted metal is used by both primary and secondary producers and most metals can be recycled into high quality material that can be used in a variety of industries. There are a lot of other benefits from using recycled metal in our manufacturing processes. It cuts down our collective CO2 emissions, reduces air pollution by around 86% and cuts water pollution by some 76%.
Where Does Our Metal Come From?
The metal products that we recycle nowadays include everything from cans and packaging to cars and waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE).
- Packaging: By far the biggest area of metal packaging is aluminium and steel/tin cans – across UK we recycle some 2 billion cans a year.
- Vehicles: The biggest source of scrap and recyclable metal comes from our vehicles. From large trucks to Mini Metros, almost 75% is metal and can be reused in some way.
- Batteries: The biggest source of metal such as lead, this has been one of the late arrivals to the recycling game and has become a growth industry in recent years.
- WEEE: Waste electrical components, everything from your fridge to your pc, are strong sources of recyclable metal. The problem here is separating the metal components from others such as plastic and glass.
- Other products such as old boilers, work tools and building components all have metal parts that can be reused and recycled.
How is Metal Recycled?
The metal recycling industry is large and fragmented, comprising every business venture from skip hire companies to scrap metal dealers, those who provide the service of sorting and separating metal waste and the industries that produce new raw materials. For instance, plumbers and builders will produce their own specific type of metal waste while fridge and cooker manufacturers will have theirs. Then you have the metal waste that domestic homes and commercial premises produce and the local authority collections that need to be processed.
Metal is recycled in a number of ways, often using industrial size machinery and sorting processes:
- Shearing and Shredding: Products with metal in them are put into shearing machines that essentially rip the product into strips. This residue can be made gradually smaller by different grades of machinery.
- Baling and Compacting: Metal material is crushed, compacted and made into bales to be transported to processing plants.
- Separating Different Media: One of the key processes when dealing with products that have a number of components, particularly WEEE, is breaking it up and then separating using processes that involve magnets and liquids. That metal can then be sorted and sent for processing.
Processes for different metal waste products vary. For example, tin cans are usually a mix of about 95% steel and 5% tin. The recycling process involves first removing the tin using a mix of a caustic acid solution and electrolysis to separate the two. Steel components are attracted by magnets and then shipped to a steel mill to be reprocessed. Copper has to be inspected and then graded before it is handled and can be melted and turned into ingots before being sent to manufacturers.
We currently reuse around 40% of the 13 million tonnes of metal that we recycle each year. The other 60% is actually exported abroad to Europe and the rest of the world. The UK is one of the biggest exporters and it is undoubtedly one of the largest areas where we contribute to recycling the products that have reached their ‘end of life’.
Finding a Metal Recycling Contractor
Those who deal with metal recycling are specialist companies. Commercial businesses will often use a collection company that deals specifically in this area and have the right licenses for doing so. You can search our comprehensive database of providers for metal recycling here.