Metal Recycling: 7 Process, Types, Importance, Disadvantages

Metal ores are scarce on Earth. They can’t be replenished if we use them all up. There is a finite quantity of metal ores on Earth. Things made from metals and other materials from the Earth’s crust are frequently discarded. This results in massive trash dumps and landfill sites ruining the landscape and litter issues. Metal extraction from their ores takes a significant amount of energy. Energy resources are very limited, and we must conserve them as well. Metal recycling is one approach to help save resources and energy.

Metal recycling
Metal recycling

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Metal Recycling

Metal extraction and purification require a significant amount of energy. It is frequently less expensive to gather old metals and recycle them than to extract them from their ores.
There are various advantages to recycling:

  • It saves energy (which helps to combat global warming because we use less fossil fuel)
  • It conserves mineral supply.
  • Fill sites do not fill up as quickly, Back there is less waste;
  • It is less expensive than extracting the metal from the ore.

Metal recycling is not always simple. They must be collected, sorted, and transported to the recycling facility. This requires both time and money. Individual metal separation may be difficult. For example, ‘tin’ cans are constructed of steel that has been tin-coated. Before they can be used again, the two metals must be separated. Copper and aluminum are two easily recyclable metals.

What is Metal Recycling?

Metal recycling is simply the process of reprocessing scrap metal to create new metal stuff. This recycled metal can be utilized to create metal items, which can then be recycled when they are no longer needed.

Metal recycling has numerous advantages, including environmental benefits and energy savings. The metal recycling process is similar to other types of recycling. The metals are initially separated according to their characteristics. It is, nevertheless, necessary to have a rudimentary understanding of metals. This will aid in recycling and maintaining a green atmosphere.

Why should metal be recycled?

  • The extraction of metals has a harmful influence on the environment. The ore must first be mined, and the metal must be extracted from its oxide complex. Following that, it is ground and smelted, each of which consumes a significant amount of energy.
  • With the state of the environment being a major issue for all of us, it is critical that we reuse what we have rather than extracting new raw materials. Fortunately, nearly all metals may be recycled indefinitely while retaining their original value and qualities.
  • Metal recycling is less expensive and uses less energy than producing new raw metals. Recycling aluminum, for example, requires only 5% of the energy required to extract and process new aluminum from its mineral, bauxite.
  • Metals, unlike other materials, do not decay when recycled, therefore they can be recycled indefinitely while maintaining their high value.

Types of Metals Recycled

Both ferrous (having significant levels of iron) and non-ferrous metals can be recycled. Ferrous metals, such as steel and iron, are routinely recycled. Nonferrous metals include, among other things, aluminum, brass, titanium, and copper.

Metals are recycled from a variety of sources, including end-of-life automobiles, demolition waste, catalytic converters, and more.

Ferrous Metals

Ferrous metals contain iron and are magnetic, making them important in the automotive sector. Furthermore, they are exceedingly sturdy and are frequently utilized in construction. However, due to high quantities of carbon, they are susceptible to corrosion when exposed to moisture. Shipping containers, industrial pipelines, household tools and hardware such as nails, household appliances, cars, and railway tracks all contain ferrous metals. Metals that fall into this category include:

  • Cast iron
  • Wrought Iron
  • Mild steel
  • Carbon steel

Non-Ferrous Metals

Non-ferrous metals, on the other hand, do not contain iron and hence are not magnetic or prone to rust. They are more pliable and can be used for a wide range of applications, such as wiring, roofing, vehicle batteries, pots and pans, taps, and ornaments. Here are several examples:

  • Aluminium
  • Copper
  • Titanium
  • Silver


Some metals are combined to generate a new product with the greatest attributes of each element. Stainless steel, for example, is a ferrous metal that is an alloy of steel, chromium, nickel, and magnesium. Alloys can be recycled, but they must be properly separated into their constituent elements.

The Metal Recycling Process

The metal recycling process is similar to other types of recycling. The metal recycling procedure varies depending on the municipality and the product. Non-ferrous metal recycling, for example, may differ from other metal recycling. The metals are initially separated according to their characteristics. It is, nevertheless, necessary to have a rudimentary understanding of metals. This will aid in recycling and maintaining a green atmosphere. The following are the steps in the metal recycling process.


  • This is the initial and most crucial step in metal recycling. It basically entails collecting all metal-based materials.
  • This procedure should be managed so that there are containers specifically designed to gather metals. Recycling firms typically collect your containers and transport them to a processing plant.
  • Metal collection differs from that of other commodities due to the higher scrap value. As a result, it is more likely to be sold to scrap yards rather than disposed of in a landfill.
  • Scrap automobiles are the most common source of scrap ferrous metal in the United States. Large steel constructions, railroad tracks, ships, farm equipment, and, of course, consumer scrap are also sources.
  • Prompt scrap, which is generated during the fabrication of new products, accounts for one-half of ferrous scrap supply.
  • Some individuals and businesses have developed scrap yards in which people are encouraged to collect various metals, transport them there, and be rewarded for what they have collected.
  • Metals are priced differently at the yards. The scrap metal yards serve as metal collection points.


  • Sorting is the process of separating metals from a combined scrap metal or mixed multi-material waste stream. Magnets and sensors are utilized in automated recycling systems to aid in material sorting.
  • Sorting necessitates the separation of metals or mixed multi-material trash derived from scrap metal sources.
  • Scrappers can employ magnets for business purposes, as well as analyze the color or weight of the material to assist determine its nature. Aluminium, for example, is silver and white. Silver, yellow (for brass), gold, and red are significant colors to look for. Scrappers can increase the value of their goods by separating clean metal from unclean metal.


  • Metals and other recyclable materials are sorted, cleaned, and readied for delivery to a milling or manufacturing company at the processing facility.
  • Metals are shredded so that they can be processed further. Shredding is done because little shredded metals have a high surface-to-volume ratio, which aids in the melting process.
  • As a result, they may be melted with far less energy. Aluminium is normally manufactured into small sheets, whereas steel is formed into huge blocks.


  • To enable for further processing, the metals are broken down into tiny pieces or sheets.
  • Small chunks of metal have a high surface-to-volume ratio and can be melted with less energy than large pieces of metal. Steel is often transformed into steel blocks, whilst aluminum is transformed into sheets.
  • Metal recyclers must entirely remove any remaining plastics or other non-metal elements from scrap metals. Following this, the scrap metals are shredded into smaller pieces to allow for easier melting.


  • Scrap metal is transferred to a special furnace intended to melt it. This phase necessitates the expenditure of considerable energy.
  • This can take a few minutes or a few hours, depending on the melting point of the metal.
  • Metal scraps are finally transformed into molten metal, which can be easily formed into new items due to the intense heat.
  • Nonetheless, the energy required to melt and recycle metals is substantially lower than the energy required to manufacture metals from pure raw materials, as mentioned above.
  • Melting time varies depending on the size of the furnace, the degree of heat within the furnace, and the amount of metal used.


  • The purification process begins once the melting process is completed. Metals are cleansed in many ways.
  • Metal purification is done to ensure that the finished product is free of contaminants and of good quality. One way of purifying metals is electrolysis.
  • Other metals are simply separated from other recyclables by powerful magnetic devices. Depending on the type of metal, numerous purifying processes are available today.
  • Purification ensures that the finished product is of high quality and free of impurities. Electrolysis is one of the most frequent ways of purification.


  • A conveyor belt transports molten metals after purification so that they can be cooled and solidified. At this point, the scrap metal is transformed into a solid metal that can be reused.
  • After that, more chemicals are added to the molten metal to give it density and other qualities.
  • Almost any metal may be recycled and repurposed as new material. Indeed, the scrap metal production industry has proven to be resistant to major economic pressures, establishing itself as a key contributor to the world economy.

Importance of Metal Recycling

Conserves Natural Resources

Metal recycling helps to conserve natural resources such as iron ore and the energy required to create new goods from basic materials. This is because recycled metals use far less energy than new metals to extract and process. Recycling metals helps to provide a stable supply of materials utilized in a variety of industries, including automotive, construction, electrical, and electronics manufacture.

Waste Management

Metal debris, such as scrap aluminum cans, old pipes, and other metals, is recycled rather than discarded or placed in landfills. This contributes to a reduction in the amount of waste that ends up in landfills. It also eliminates the need for mining and quarrying activities, which can pollute and harm the environment if not properly managed.

Remove Waste from landfill

Metal does not biodegrade quickly, if at all, hence it is critical that metal not wind up in a landfill. Landfill capacity is restricted and is discouraged from expanding since the increasing garbage can have disastrous impacts on both the surrounding ecosystem and carbon gases.

Energy Saving

The production of fresh metal resources consumes significantly more energy than the production of recycled metal. Lots of expensive and environmentally damaging energy must be utilized from mining and processing the ore through shaping and treating the metal for usage.

Repurposing discarded metal is a considerably more waste-efficient process; for example, recycled aluminum uses 95% less energy! Copper is another waste metal that is energy efficient, with recovered copper requiring 90% less energy.

Circular Economy

Metal recycling’s repeatability, along with its far lower carbon footprint, lends itself well to a paradigm shift advocated by many policymakers today: the circular economy. In contrast to our existing open-loop model, in which commodities are made, consumed, and wasted with little consideration for future use, a circular economy necessitates continuous recycling or upcycling to send products back up the supply chain – and nothing is wasted in the process. Circular economies can benefit both the planet and customers by encouraging innovation, fostering sustainability, and working toward


One of the most significant advantages of metal and iron recycling is that it may be done indefinitely. Other recyclable materials, such as paper, plastic, or cardboard, lose material qualities as they disintegrate with each use, while metals do not. Whereas paper products’ fiber lengths went shorter and shorter until they were worthless, metals may be re-melted and moulded back into their raw condition, keeping the same qualities as their virgin parent materials. Glass is the only other material that may be reused.


Recycling Metal can help the government save a lot of money that would otherwise be spent on mining resources. The money saved may then be used on other government programs.
Every year, the recycling business generates billions of dollars in revenue and helps to support local economies all around the world. The recycling sector in the United States generates about $236 billion in annual income.

Disadvantages of Metal Recycling

Transportation Difficulty

Recycling metal requires an extensive network of trucks, sorting facilities and factories. This puts more carbon-emitting vehicles on the road and adds a step to the process. Also, since metal is heavy, it costs a great deal more to transport than lighter plastics and other recyclable materials.

All metal scraps are not recyclable

One of the major drawbacks of metal recycling is that not all metal scrap or metallic items can be recycled. Metal goods that have been polluted, for example, cannot be recycled. Paint and motor oil cans, propane gas tanks, and other sorts of metal containers that were previously used to store various commodities are some examples. This is due to the fact that even if you carefully clean these goods, there is no guarantee that all of the chemicals have been removed from the surface. As a result, designated facilities avoid recycling such items.

High Energy and Resource Usage

While recycling metals is less expensive and less energy-intensive than mining metals from ores, it still necessitates a significant amount of resources. Before a corporation to recycle metals, the entire process must be structured. The items must then be collected, sorted, and transported to the appropriate facilities.

As a result, recycling metals necessitates a large number of personnel both inside and outside of the facilities, as well as specialized cars, fuel, transportation, and technology. Clearly, this is related to money, and recycling metals is not as inexpensive as one might believe. Nonetheless, it is less expensive than mining for metals.

Unmanaged Recycling sites

Recycling sites are typically unsanitary, unhealthy, and ugly. Locations where various types of garbage are piled provide an ideal environment for the creation of debris and the spread of infectious diseases. The hazardous compounds emitted by these wastes might likewise be hazardous.

No assurance to quality

If the input raw material is of poor quality, there is no guarantee that high-quality items will be produced. Due to poor quality, some products designated for recycling are eventually burned or disposed of in landfills.

Copper and Aluminum Recycling

  • Most copper ores found on Earth contain less than 1% copper. Recycling copper is essential because it requires less energy than transporting copper ore to a smelting facility and extracting copper from it.
  • It takes less energy to extract and refine recycled copper so that it is pure enough to be electrolyzed.
  • Because copper used in water pipelines and cooking utensils does not need to be highly pure, little purification of recycled copper is required for these applications. Copper for electrical wiring must be 99.99% pure. This must be refined using electrolysis.
  • Purifying and remoulding aluminum is far less expensive than obtaining aluminum from bauxite ore. Savings are made because: it is not necessary to extract the aluminium ore from the ground or transport it to the smelting plant; these processes require energy; the treatment of bauxite to make pure aluminium oxide for electrolysis is not required; the melting of aluminium scrap requires less energy than melting aluminium oxide; and the expensive electrolysis of aluminium oxide is not required.
  • Recycling aluminum instead of extracting it from its ore saves 95% of the energy.



About Author

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Kabita Sharma

Kabita Sharma, a Central Department of Chemistry graduate, is a young enthusiast interested in exploring nature's intricate chemistry. Her focus areas include organic chemistry, drug design, chemical biology, computational chemistry, and natural products. Her goal is to improve the comprehension of chemistry among a diverse audience through writing.

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