Producing metal costs a lot, and it also takes a big toll on the environment. It consumes our limited mineral resources; it depends on mining, which can causes land degradation; it pollutes and consumes copious amounts of water; and it leaves an enormous carbon footprint in the way of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption during the production and transportation processes. In short, the less we rely on primary metal production, the lesser our impact on the environment will be.
So what’s the best way to reduce our reliance on metal production? Recycling! Recycling scrap metals is a relatively simple process, and you might be surprised to find out just how many environmental and economic benefits it offers.
Reducing the environmental impact of metal production
Sourcing and producing metals from scratch has a huge impact on our environment. Drilling for ore pollutes waterways and degrades the land. It also uses valuable natural resources that can’t be replenished, upsetting the fragile balance of the ecosystem. Besides that, it consumes huge amounts of energy and produces enormous volumes of greenhouse gas throughout the production process, across both unsustainable manufacturing processes and reliance on transportation systems.
By contrast, recycling scrap metal uses up to 95% less energy depending on the metal. There’s no raw material sourcing, and the production process causes significantly less pollution. The more we recycle metal instead of producing it from scratch, the better.
Economic benefits of metal recycling
But there’s another advantage to recycling scrap metal that many people are unaware of: the economic benefits. Recycling metal actually creates more jobs than primary metal production does, boosting the economy by keeping people in meaningful work.
Recycling is an environmentally sustainable activity, and like many similar activities, it’s labour intensive. It uses more workers than energy, in contrast to the resource-depleting and highly polluting primary metal production industry, which uses fewer people and much more energy.
It’s important to support the metal industry: in aluminium alone, for every job in the industry another 3.4 jobs are created elsewhere in the economy, and it contributes billions of dollars to the economy every year. Recycling does just that, and environmental economists have been working hard over the last few years to dispel the common belief that recycling causes job losses. There is more evidence every day that metal recycling creates new jobs all throughout the production process in the metal industry, while generating valuable economic products that come at a lower cost to the environment.
Metals that can be recycled
Virtually every metal in consumer products today can be recycled into new products without losing quality. Some of the most frequently recycled metals are aluminium (which is 100% recyclable), steel, copper, gold, silver, iron, nickel, brass and platinum. The items that are most frequently sent for recycling are drink cans, metal food containers, car bodies and car parts, whitegoods and electronics, but useful scrap metal can be found in many other common household items, construction materials, and industrial waste.
Ferrous metal scrap (steel and iron) and non-ferrous metal scrap (aluminium, copper, and brass) can both be recycled repeatedly to create new components and products without diminishing in quality at all. They may be formed into ingots, slabs, rods or billets, or distributed in powdered or liquid form to different manufacturing facilities for virtually unlimited uses.
The scrap metal recycling process
The recycling process begins at collection, where metals are separated by type (sometimes using magnets) and cut into smaller pieces for easier processing—which is why scrap metal dealers will often pay more for collections that are segregated and prepared well. This stage is important, because different metals need different treatment to be recycled.
The metals are cleaned, and turned into a molten metal solution under high temperatures in a special blast furnace. They are then tested for purity, and different metals or gases can be added in to change the purity of the solution or to form alloys for use in manufacturing. When the composition is right, the molten metal is poured into moulds; they can be shaped in any number of ways, depending on what they’re going to be used for.
How to recycle scrap metal responsibly
Scrap metal prices are strong, so it’s a great time to get stuck into your garage or backyard pile and make some money from scrap metal recycling. Brisbane residents and businesses have a number of dealers to choose from, but it’s important for them to use discretion to ensure that their valuable scrap is used responsibly when they’ve sold it.
Not all facilities are equal when it comes to scrap metal. Brisbane’s best metal recycling service providers will be committed to environmental responsibility and complying with the law, so it’s important to ask for evidence of how your dealer adheres to the strict regulations of the industry.