What Happens to Metals After They Reach the Recycling Plant?

You know the value of bringing in your recyclable metals and getting a little extra cash for your efforts, but do you ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes at the metal recycler's facility? You're about to find out.

The Need for Recycled Metals in Calgary

When you live and work in the Calgary area, you quickly understand that metals play a huge part in the local economy. The steel and oil industries, particularly, are alive and booming. Manufacturing and construction also create a constant need for metals like copper and steel.

Luckily, metal recycling makes it cost-effective – not to mention ecologically responsible – to use metals in a variety of applications throughout Alberta. Metals that otherwise would rust and canker in a rubbish heap come to life again in buildings, machinery, architectural design, and transport.

At the Recycling Plant

Most metals come directly from customers like you. Once you've loaded your scrap metals into your vehicle, you'll bring them to the recycling facility for weighing and examination.

Next, your metals are sorted by type: ferrous (structural steel, beams, channel or angle steel, iron, etc.); and non-ferrous (metals like copper, aluminum, and brass). The recycling engineers use giant magnets to pull ferrous metals from the pile.

Once the engineers sort metals into types, each type is placed in a bin that will go to a separate area for chopping or bundling.

However, most metals need to undergo a milling process before they're ready for new applications. Essentially, milling heats the metals to extreme temperatures (well above 1500 Celsius) until they're a molten mass. When this happens, the metal is poured into moulds. The result is a new metal ingot that ships directly to metal fabricators and industrialists.

In order to understand the full value of recycled metals, let's take a further look at a metal we may take for granted: steel.

The Value of Steel

These days, many steel mills use primarily steel scrap during processing. The reason is simple: Unlike some recyclables, steel is relatively easy to recycle. Take a typical steel can as an example. The food industry alone uses a lot of steel for canning purposes. Once all those cans come to the recycler for sorting, they get crushed into steel bales that go to the mill furnace. In this way, steel can be recycled continuously without impairing its quality.

After recycling, the steel may be used in appliances, machinery, construction materials, automobiles, or make its way back to the food industry.

One example of the increasing sustainable use of steel comes from scrap automobiles. In the past, the only option for old cars was the traditional junk yard. Today, of course, it's still viable to glean functional engines and car parts from wrecked cars, but what about the shell of the vehicle?

Typically, once a scrapped automobile makes its way to the metal recycling facility, workers drain all fluids and remove tires. From there, the remains may be snatched by a hydraulic shearer or crusher. The process depends on the recycler.

The point is steel is an important, if occasionally overlooked, recyclable resource that your local metal recycler deals with every day.

Non-Ferrous Processes

Although ferrous metals make up a large part of a recycler's day, non-ferrous metals are worth more. This is no surprise to law enforcement officials who deal with copper thieves trying to make a quick buck. It also accounts for the fact that today's recyclers are careful to accept metals from reliable sources.

Some businesses even separate their metals before they take them to the recycling plant – for example, taking the insulation off of copper wires, or stripping down an old appliance before taking its various metals in for recycling.

Some materials can be sent to the shredder; however, like steel, a lot of non-ferrous metals get baled or otherwise compressed until they're melted down later. Brass and copper alone have many applications beyond electrical and industrial. Some of that old brass may find its way into an art exhibit or a municipal sculpture.

While these metals are valuable, they go through more refining than steel. Brass, for example, gives off zinc compounds during re-melting that gets trapped and later recycled on its own. The same holds true for other alloy scrap, including leaded or aluminum bronze. At any given point, these metals have to be analyzed to make sure they have the proper composition for future applications.

In the Environment

At every step, your local recycling plant assesses environmental impact. While recycling can lower a community's carbon footprint, it also has to be monitored so that no contaminants re-enter the ecological system.

In the end, metal recycling improves industries and communities worldwide. When you better understand what happens in a typical plant – and how certain materials are re-used – you'll feel better about your role in creating a better world for the future.

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