Scrap metal recycling can be a profitable venture if you know what you are doing. It feels good to recycle, and it also feels good to put money in your picket. This is your guide on how to get started.
- Basic Metal Knowledge
- Where to Find Scrap Metal
- On the Job Safety
- Keep Your Metal Safe
- Which Items Are Worth Taking Apart?
- Where to Sell Scrap Metal
- Can You Make a Full-time Living?
Basic Metal Knowledge
When you're out scrapping you need to know what to look for. For scrapping purposes there are just two classes of metals: ferrous and non-ferrous. The non-ferrous metals are worth more because they have more conductivity among other factors.
A simple magnet test can usually tell you if a metal is ferrous or non-ferrous, as non-ferrous metals are non-magnetic. Ferrous metals are magnetic besides stainless steel. As you gain experience you will get better at identifying metals by sight, but when starting out it's helpful to bring a magnet with you.
Let's now take a look at the common metals you will find.
These are metals that contain iron or iron alloys and they won't command as high a price as non-ferrous metals. The value for ferrous metals is around $.10 per pound.
- Steel. A common metal and easy to spot because it's heavy and very magnetic.
- Stainless steel. This metal is actually 70% iron but it's more valuable than iron because it contains 8% nickel. The magnet test will determine whether an item is steel or stainless steel. A magnet will not stick to stainles steel.
- Iron. This is another common, magnetic metal. You can find a lot of iron in washing machines.
These are the metals that command a higher price, especially copper.
- Copper. This is the main metal you want to look for. The scrap price is around $2-2.50 per pound. Copper wire is not hard to find if you know which items have it.
- Bronze. Bronze is a combination of different metals and it can be difficult to distinguish from brass or copper. One tip to remember is that bronze is corrosion-resistant and water-resistant.
- Brass. Brass is a mixture of copper and zinc and it's not hard to spot because the color is a mix of red and yellow. However when left outside it can turn to a shade of green. You can find brass in doorknobs and faucets.
- Aluminum. It's easy to identify aluminum because it has the same look as steel, except it won't stick to a magnet. It's common to find aluminum in bicycles and motorcycles. The scrap price is around $.50 per pound.
- Lead. Lead is easy to recognize because it's soft and heavy. Typically it's found in pipes.
Current Metal Prices
You don't need to know the exact metal prices, although it's good to know roughly what the market rate is for each piece of metal. You can see the latest prices on the Scrap Register List.
Ultimately the scrap yard will set the rate. There are other factors involved such as the quality and condition of the metal.
Where to Find Scrap Metal
Here are the best places to look:
Your first step should be to search your home. The main items you should look for at home are old appliances and electrical wires.
If a metal item works then you can try to sell it online or at a yard sale. If a metal item doesn't work then you can consider scrapping it.
Note: When searching your home you may come across some silver items. However you don't want to bring silver to a scrapyard. Silver is worth much more than common metals so you can sell silver separately online or to a dealer. To make sure your silver is real, you can run a couple of silver authenticity tests from home.
Side of the Road
You can look for items on the side of the road such as car parts, appliances, and computer parts. You first need to know when the trash pickup day is. You can then drive around town the afternoon before or in the early morning of pickup day.
Any local business has metal items to get rid of. It could be an insurance company that has old computers lying around, or a retail store with damaged shopping carts. There are plenty of opportunities, you just need to approach the businesses and make the connections.
To get started, go to a business and ask a manager what the policy is for metal recycling. Hand over your business card and tell them to call you if they plan on getting rid of any metal.
Similar to approaching a local business, talk to the head maintenance person and tell him that you are interested in picking up any scrap metal that will be thrown away. Leave your business card and then do the same at other apartment complexes.
There are plenty of good opportunities at construction sites. However you should be an advanced scrapper before you go digging around one of these sites. This is because it can be dangerous and there is certain equipment you will need like ropes, a helmet, an ax, etc.
You also need written permission from a construction manager before you start looking around. Many construction companies scrap their own metal.
Most auto shops will not be willing to work with you. However you can still check their dumpster where you can possibly find some metal parts.
On the Job Safety
Some of the scrap items may be heavy, so be careful with your back. When lifting a heavy item, keep your back straight and lift with your legs. This is important because you definitely don't want your back to give out.
Also if you are searching around a construction site, then it's best to wear a helmet and goggles. It's also good practice to leave a first-aid kit and a cell phone in your car.
Clothing to Wear
You also want to wear the right clothes. Some of the objects you handle could be sharp, so you want to avoid puncturing your skin. Therefore it's best to wear long pants and long sleeve shirts. Gloves are another recommended item. There is just no need to expose your skin if you don't need to.
For footwear it's fine to wear sneakers but ideally you want to wear work-boots. You wouldn't want a heavy object to land on your feet.
Keep Your Metal Safe
Your scrap metal has value, which puts it at risk of being stolen. So you want to make sure that your scrap metal is locked away safely. Keeping the metal in your house or basement is fine, but not everyone has the space.
One option is your garage. You just need to make sure that your garage doors are locked. Otherwise a burglar can just lift them up to enter your garage. A better option is a shed that allows you to lock the door with a large pad-lock. It's also a good idea to get creative and use several different locks and chains because burglars can try to use bolt-cutters. Another good idea is to have a video surveillance system.
If you have a lot of scrap metal then it would probably be worthwhile to use a storage facility.
Which Items Are Worth Taking Apart?
For the items below you can either scrap the items as they are, or you can take them apart to try and get more money by separating the different metals. We will go over whether or not it's worth taking the following items apart.
You can find electric motors in a variety of different appliances. These motors contain copper wire on the inside and usually you will need to use a hammer and screwdriver to open up the motor.
They can be difficult to open so it might not be worth your time to try and extract the copper wire. The wire will also be #2 copper wire, so it won't be worth as much as #1 copper wire. You should only consider taking apart electronic motors if you have at least 40 pounds of them, but in general it's usually not worth doing.
Similar to electric motors, sealed units are motors in steel cases with copper wire on the inside. You generally need to saw them open so we don't recommend opening them up. Also if you open a sealed unit then you need to have it completely drained of any oil or other liquid by a professional.
These are good items to find and good items to take apart. You can take out the electric motor, the copper-wire and the low-grade board and scrap these parts separately. If you just scrap the microwave as is then you will only get paid for the steel content.
These items are easy to take apart, but you need a lot of computer towers to make the parts worth more than the whole. If you have more than 10 then it can be worthwhile.
Television and Computer Monitors
Most scrap yards will not accept television and computer monitors. Therefore you will probably have to strip the monitors to find the copper wire.
Most yards accept them whole so it's easiest to sell them as is. However you can get some extra money by taking them apart. First, the freon needs to be taken out by a HVAC contractor. After the freon is out you are free to take out the remaining parts which include: an electric motor, copper tubes, steel case, and a sealed unit.
If you have at least a couple refrigerators then it may be worth taking them apart, otherwise you will only receive the value from their steel content. As with air conditioners, the freon needs to be removed by an HVAC professional.
Other Large appliances
For appliances like dishwashers, washing machines, and dryers it's going to depend on how many you have. If you have more than five then it's worth it to take them apart and separate the different metals.
Where to Sell Scrap Metal
To sell your scrap metal you would need to go to a scrap yard. Right now you probably don't know where a scrap yard is because they do not advertise, and they are generally not located on the main roads. So you would need to do research on where there is a scrap yard near you. A quick search on your favorite search engine should give you some options.
Tips for Selling
When you go to a scrap yard you want to have the different metals pre-sorted. That way it's easy for the yard to give you a price.
Also some places will pay more if the metal has been prepared. This means you should take off any excess attachments to the metal. For example if you have copper wiring then it's best to take off the insulation attached to it. This saves the yard time.
Remember also to bring some identification because some scrap yards require it.
Can You Make a Full-time Living?
Yes, it's possible to make a full-time living although it won't be easy- you need to sell a lot of metal. On some days the best scrappers make $100-200 a day. Keep in mind that these scrappers know exactly what to look for and they have good connections. For most people scrap metal recycling makes for a good part-time job.
It's important to know your hourly earnings. You can then take your hourly earnings and compare them to jobs around the area that you could get. Remember that as you get better your hourly rate will rise.
Once you get a little knowledge and experience, then you can make some decent money from metal recycling. It can also be a fun job to do. So go ahead and give it a try, you may be able to find some hot spots in your local area.