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How to Be a Scrap Metal Collector


How to Be a Scrap Metal Collector

Bright and shiny copper.

West Coast Metal Recycling

We are surrounded by metal products in our everyday lives. Eventually, scrap metal is no longer useful and is removed from use. The scrap metal collector, as a supplier to scrap dealers, can play a valuable role in ensuring that end-of-life metal is collected and introduced into the recycling stream.

For the scrap metal collector, this activity provides several benefits, including:

  • performing an environmentally important job
  • the ability to generate income
  • flexibility to pursue it on a full time or part time basis
  • self-employment
  • steady demand regardless of whether economy is good or bad
  • potentially modest start-up cost
  • Difficulty: Average
    Time Required: One month

    Here's How:

    1. Learn to recognize various types of scrap metal, including ferrous and nonferrous metals. Nonferrous metals include copper, aluminum, stainless steel and others. Ferrous metals include include iron, and are typically found in such products as obsolete machinery, stoves, refrigerators, and automobile engines. Nonferrous metals typically include metals such as copper, brass, aluminum, magnesium and alloys. Typical scrap objects and materials include copper wire and piping, brass fixtures, aluminum siding and chairs,etc. Be sure to review our galleries of ferrous metal photos and our nonferrous metal photos.

    2. Get acquainted with local scrap yards and their personnel, and understand the pros and cons of various scrap dealers. Scrap operations can be looked up in the Yellow Pages or through Internet search. By building relationships with local dealers, you will get a better understanding of material grades and identification, pricing and other opportunities. The closest dealer may not be your best bet. Some dealers, for example, may not deal with entry level collectors, or may only take certain types of metals. There are other considerations such as price paid, and whether payment is by cash or check.

    3. Understand how scrap metal pricing works. Generally speaking, nonferrous metals are more scarce and more valuable than ferrous metals, but there are many different considerations. Because pricing can fluctuate with daily marketplace activities, you may wish to keep current on pricing trends. One way to keep current is to subscribe to publications such as American Metals Market and Metalprices.com.
    4. Choose a vehicle for scrap collecting. Beginning scrap collectors need a pickup truck or a utility trailer for collecting scrap, as well as tie down straps to secure the load. As your business grows you may wish to consider a 3/4 ton or larger pickup and an 18' utility trailer with a winch. The use of separate buckets or containers for different types of metals can help minimize extra handling of material. Ramps or hoists can help take some of the physical exertion out of metal collecting.
    5. Plan for a safe operation. Ensure you have personal protective equipment, and understand how to use it, as well as how to safely operate tools. Safety glasses, gloves, safety shoes, reflective vest and first aid kit are basic elements of safe collecting. Hearing protection and a welder's mask may also be required. Keep alert to moving traffic and equipment. Also be mindful of potentially harmful substances that may be stored in scrap, such as gasoline in old vehicles, refrigerants in old air conditioning unit, or toxic substances in containers. Visit OSHA for a more comprehensive discussion of scrap metal safety.
    6. Gather some basic tools of the scrap collecting trade, including a magnet, which helps identify ferrous metal and a grinding wheel, which can help identify metal type by what kind of spark it produces. Additional equipment can include various hammers, screwdrivers, wire cutters, pocket knife, drills, pliers and pry bars.
    7. Determine where your best opportunities are for finding scrap, and develop collection routes. This may include small businesses, auto repair shops, demolition sites, plumbing businesses, and so on, as well as residential collection. If you find businesses that regularly generate scrap, you may wish to create a route that would include periodic pickup. It may be worth your while to arrange to drop a bin at a business to accumulate scrap. Other approaches include local advertising for scrap pickup, or attending garage sales, for example to look for old brass lamps or other metal items.


    1. One consideration to be mindful of is material theft. Do not remove scrap metal from private property without approval of the owner. Additionally, depending upon the jurisdiction where you operate, such as in Oregon, there may be specific scrap collection regulations, and many scrap metal dealers follow the ScrapTheftAlert program. Where such initiatives exist, you may require special licensing, or the scrap metal dealer may be required to photocopy your driver's license and pay by check.

    What You Need

    • pickup truck or utility trailer
    • magnet
    • grinding wheel
    • hammers
    • cutters
    • personal protective equipment
    • first aid kit
    • maps or GPS unit
    • screwdrivers
    • buckets

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