In the broadest brushstrokes, scrap metal is classified as either ferrous or non-ferrous scrap. While ferrous metal contains some degree of iron (its name derived from the latin term meaning iron), non-ferrous metal does not contain iron as a component.
In terms of ferrous metal, steel is the most recycled material both in the United States and globally. In 2010, 74 million metric tons of ferrous scrap were processed by the scrap recycling industry, accounting for more than 55% of the volume of all domestically processed material. Scrap metal can be further categorized as obsolete or prompt scrap. Sources of obsolete ferrous scrap include automobiles, steel structures, household appliances, railroad tracks, ships, farm equipment as well as other sources. Prompt scrap, which is generated as a by-product of industrial and manufacturing activities, accounts for approximately half of the ferrous scrap supply.
This scrap is processed by the scrap recycling industry into commodity grade material that accounts for more than 60% of total raw steel produced in the United States, predominantly at electric arc furnaces. As well, the U.S. exports ferrous scrap to approximately 90 countries around the world.
Generally speaking, ferrous alloys are magnetic, although their magnetic attraction will vary as a consequence of the amount of iron in the alloy. Stainless steel is considered a ferrous metal, but is not always magnetically attracted because an great deal of the iron is moved in the manufacturing process.
Ferrous Scrap Metal in a Nutshell
- The U.S. ferrous scrap industry was valued at $26.4 billion in 2010.
- In 2010, the U.S. scrap industry recycled more than 54 million metric tons of ferrous metal, accounting for nearly 60% of the total raw steel produced in the United States.
- In 2010, the U.S. exported more than 19 million metric tons of ferrous scrap—valued at more than $8 billion, making it the world’s leading exporter. Ferrous scrap was exported from the U.S. to approximately 90 countries, including China, South Korea, Turkey, Taiwan, Canada and India.
- 530 million metric tons of ferrous scrap were consumed globally in 2010.
Recycling Rates For Ferrous Scrap
- for cars: 106%
- for appliances: 90%
- for steel cans: 66.8%
- for structural steel: 98%
- for reinforcement steel: 70%
Non-Ferrous Scrap Metal
It may be that nonferrous scrap makes up a small percentage of the total quantity of material recycled in the United States, but by value it accounts for more than half of total U.S. scrap recycling industry earnings. The value of U.S. generated nonferrous metal scrap jumped to nearly $40 billion in 2010 — a 28% increase from 2009. This was achieved by the processing of more than eight million metric tons of nonferrous scrap, generated from a range of consumer, commercial and industrial sources, including copper and precious metal circuitry in electronic devices, soft-drink containers, automobile batteries and radiators, aluminum siding, airplane parts much more. Recovered nonferrous scrap, including aluminum, copper, lead, nickel, tin, zinc and others, is consumed by secondary processors in the U.S. as well as in more than 100 countries worldwide.
Nonferrous metals do not degrade or lose their chemical or physical properties in the recycling process, resulting in their capacity of being recycled an infinite number of times.
In 2010, the U.S. scrap industry processed (exports plus domestic recycled) more than:
- 4.6 million metric tons of aluminum
- 1.8 million metric tons of copper
- 1.2 million metric tons of lead
- 162,000 metric tons of zinc
- 2 million tons of nickel/stainless steel
The United States exported $16.7 billion worth of nonferrous scrap to nearly 100 countries in 2010, including China, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Belgium, India and Germany.