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Metal Recycling Process

 by Jack McLellan,

How is Scrap Metal Recycled? The Metal Recycling Process

One of the selling points of metals is how sustainable and reusable they are. Because metal can be recycled infinitely, it is one of the earth’s most commonly used materials. The scrap metal recycling process is relatively simple, too. Below, we’ve outlined some of the most important parts of the metal recycling process.

What Kinds of Scrap Metal Can Be Recycled?

Practically all metals can be recycled, including ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Steel, a ferrous metal, is the most recycled metal in the world. If you are unfamiliar with the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals, the key difference is that ferrous metals contain iron, and non-ferrous metals do not. You can read a detailed article on the topic here.

The only ferrous and non-ferrous metals that cannot be recycled are ones containing lead or mercury due to their toxicity.

Uranium and plutonium are other types of scrap metal that cannot be recycled. This is due to the radioactive contents of the metals. Not to be confused with nuclear fuel made from uranium, which can be recycled.

What Are the Benefits of Recycling Scrap Metal?

Environmental Benefits of Recycling Scrap Metal

The metal recycling process has a few key benefits. First and foremost, it is good for the environment. According to Stanford University, “One ton of recycled steel saves 642 kWh of energy, 1.8 barrels of oil, 10.9 million BTUs of energy, and 4 cubic yards of landfill space.” Recycling scrap metal also results in lower CO2 emissions than mining new metals. 

Financial Benefits of Recycling Scrap Metal

There are also financial benefits to the metal recycling process. When a company delivers scrap metal to the scrap yard, they are paid for the scrap they drop off for processing.  On top of paying you for your waste, once the metal has been recycled, it is much cheaper for metal manufacturers to purchase than “new” metals. This leads to more affordable products for the consumer as well. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Finally, the U.S. scrap industry creates plenty of jobs. Nearly 500,000 jobs have been created by the scrap metal recycling industry. The industry has generated over $10 billion in federal and state taxes.

The Scrap Metal Recycling Process

The scrap metal recycling process is relatively simple. We’ve outlined the seven steps below:


Materials are rounded up for recycling by the people dropping them off and the recycling facility. When you drop off scrap metal for recycling, it is weighed to determine how much you can cash out for it and how much sorting, storage, and processing the metal will need. Residential metal items (such as tin cans, cast-iron pans, etc.) are also delivered to recycling facilities by trucks for recycling. These items are weighed before processing.


Once the scrap metal has been weighed, it is sent to be sorted. This ensures high-quality recycled metal in case of non-metal materials or other debris within the scrap. Different machinery can be used to sort metals. For example, the DE-STONER® sorts materials based on weight to ensure maximum classification efficiency. It removes all unwanted light materials, such as plastic, from recovered scrap metal.

Once the metals have been separated from other materials, they are separated by type. Workers sort copper, steel, and different types on conveyors to ensure high-quality metals. Ferrous and non-ferrous metals are separated. Some sorting facilities use crossbelt magnetic separators to separate ferrous and non-ferrous metals.


Before the scrap metal can be melted and refined, it must be shaped into smaller forms for efficient breakdown. This is done with hydraulic equipment, shredding, or torching. After being broken down, it is sent to a foundry for the next steps in the process.

Melting and Filtration

The process of melting depends on what kind of metal is being recycled. The method of melting steel differs from a material like tin or aluminum. Regardless of the type of metal, it is inserted into a furnace to be melted to a liquid state. This process uses significantly less energy than mining new metals. 

Once the metal melts, the impurities will rise to the top of the liquid, making for easy removal. Other times, the metal will undergo electrolysis, which utilizes electric currents to dissolve impurities. It varies depending on the type of metal. 


After being cleared of impurities, the metal undergoes solidification. The molten metal is sent down a conveyor to a cooling chamber to be solidified. It will be shaped into different forms depending on the application. Some forms include sheets, rods, blocks, and more.


Finally, the scrap metal is shipped out to a manufacturing facility. The metal is then recreated into different products, such as food cans, cast-iron pans, and more, and its life cycle begins anew.

Optimize Your Scrap Metal Recycling Process

Scrap processing is an integral part of keeping the metalcasting industry booming. General Kinematics carries several different scrap processing solutions built to run reliably and continuously for years. If you want to increase recycling efficiency, contact us, and we will help you optimize your recycling systems.

Jack McLellan

Marketing Coordinator

Jack specializes in creating compelling digital marketing content such as social media, blog posts, newsletters, and more. He works with General Kinematics industry experts to develop educational content for the foundry, recycling, mining, and aggregate industries.