Metals are essential, versatile and can be used in a number of ways. Metals can be used for industrial purposes such as the manufacture of trucks, cars, airplanes, ships, and railways. They can also be used to manufacture domestic items such as cutlery, crockery and even in packaging. The good thing about metal recycling is that metal can be recycled over and over without altering its properties.
The most common recyclable metals include aluminum and steel. The other metals, for example, silver, copper, brass and gold, are so valuable that they are rarely thrown away to be collected for recycling. Therefore, they do not create a waste disposal crisis or problem.
The Metal Recycling Process
The metal recycling process is similar to the usual recycling process. The metals are first sorted on the basis or their properties. It is, however, important to have a basic understanding or knowledge about metals. This will help in recycling them and keeping a green environment. The metal recycling process follows the following steps.
This is the first and most important step in metal recycling. It simply involves collecting all materials that are made of metals. This process should be organized in such a way that there should be containers specifically designed to collect metals.
Some people and business persons have established scrap yards whereby people are encouraged to collect different metals, take them there and be paid for what they have collected. Different metals cost differently at the yards. The scrap metal yards are used as collecting centers for the metals.
Once the metals have been collected, the next important step is to sort the metals. This involves separating what can be recycled form what is non-recyclable. It is essential to point out that the quality of metal recycled is very important.
A high quality recycled product or item can only be created if the original materials used in the recycling process are of good quality. This, therefore, calls for a strict quality checkup during the sorting process.
The general rule is that a product needs to be at least 50 percent metal. Even if that metal is surrounded by other materials like plastic, it’s worth recycling if it’s made mostly out of metal.
You may have products with only a small amount of metal, but it’s easy to remove, separate the metal. For example, a plastic three-ring binder is not scrapped metal, but the metal rings can be easily removed and used.
Scrap metal is classified as either ferrous (containing iron, such as steel) and nonferrous (everything else). The ways to identify whether the metal is ferrous or nonferrous is with a magnet. As ferrous metals contain iron, they stick to a magnet; nonferrous metals don’t and are easily pulled out of the mixed waste stream.
These days, in large recycling facilities, the use of sensors to identify metals through infra-red scanning and x-ray has become popular. Three common categories of metal sensing processes include biotechnology, hydrometallurgy, and pyrometallurgy. The use of these technologies can effectively improve metal recovery rates.
After sorting, the next step is to compact or squeeze the metal. All the recycled materials are squeezed and squashed using machines so that they do not occupy so much space in the conveyor belts.
After the crushing and breaking of the metal, the shredding process starts. The metals are broken down into tiny pieces or sheets to allow further processing. The small pieces have a large surface to volume ratio that can be melted using less energy as compared to when they are in large pieces of metal. Normally, steel is changed into steel blocks while, on the other hand, aluminum is converted into sheets.
5. Melting and Purification
Melting of the scrap metal takes place in a large furnace. Each metal is taken to a furnace that is specifically designed to melt that particular metal based on its specific properties. The melting process uses a considerable amount of energy. However, the energy required for melting recycled metal is less compared to the energy required to make metal from its raw material.
The furnace is heated to appropriate degrees capable of melting the particular metal. Melting can take minutes or hours depending on how big the furnace is, the volume of metal placed in the furnace and the heat degree of the furnace.
After the melting process is complete, the next step is the purification process. Metals are purified using different methods. Purification of metals is done to ensure that the final product is free of impurities and that it is of high quality. Electrolysis is one of the methods of purifying metals.
Other metals are simply passed under powerful magnetic systems that separate metals from other recyclables. Today there are different purification methods depending on the type of metal.
7. Melting and Solidifying of the Metal
After the purification process, the molten metal is then carried by the conveyor belt to a cooling chamber where it is cooled and solidified. It is at this stage that the scrap metal is made into a solid metal that can be used again. Other chemicals are then added into the molten metal to make it acquire its density and other properties.
It is at the cooling stage that different shapes and sizes of metals are made and designed.
8. Transportation of the Metal Bars
Once the bars have been designed and made, the final product is then packed depending on their sizes and shapes ready for transportation to different factories and to people who require the metal. Thereafter, the cycle begins again.
So, Why Is It Important to Recycle Metal?
Some people disregard the need for recycling solid waste, especially metal. Some throw them away while others leave the metal to rot away.
However, if you understood the numerous benefits of recycling these items, you will no longer throw them away or leave them to be consumed by rust and other weather elements. The following are some of the benefits of recycling metals:
1. Preservation of Natural Resources
This is one of the main reasons why people should recycle metal. Metal is excavated from the earth through a process called mining. Over time, the areas excavated tend to be depleted, and the miners move to other areas looking for metals to mine. This means that in case this trend does not stop or is not controlled, most areas will have huge excavation holes.
By providing an alternative to virgin ore, recycling metal helps to reduce the devastating effects of mining. Mining operations not only destroy delicate natural habitats, but also pollute the surrounding air, water, and soil.
Toxic runoff can occur while a mine is in operation and even affect lakes, streams, and marine environments for subsequent decades, long after it has been shut down. Therefore, in order to prevent this and preserve the environment, it is important to recycle metal.
2. Reduction of Emissions
Have you heard of global warming? This is a phenomenon brought about by the steady increase in carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. Although it is hard to undo what has already been done to the atmosphere in terms of destroying the ozone layer and global warming, we can control or stop causing further damage. This can only be done by embracing recycling of metal and other solid waste.
Metal recycling conserves natural resources by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and using less energy than making metal from virgin ore. The production of new metal releases a far greater amount of greenhouse gas emissions compared to making products from recycled metal.
These emissions may influence climate change and may also cause harmful levels of air pollution in cities, resulting in potential respiratory health problems for you and other residents. The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) reports that recycling metal may cut greenhouse gas emissions by 300 million to 500 million tons.
3. Economic Development
Through recycling, the government can save a lot of money that could be spent on mining and processing of metals. The money saved can be channeled into other development programs that can help improve the living standards of the people and the economy as a whole.
Additionally, through the export of recycled metals, the government can generate more revenue, improve the socio-economic status of its citizens and provide jobs to the unemployed.
Recycling metal creates 36 times more jobs than sending the same amount of metal waste to the incinerator, and six times more than sending the metal to a landfill, according to the National Institute of Health. The National Recycling Coalition says the recycling industry, in general, generates $236 billion annually and employs more than a million workers across America.
4. Management of Energy Consumption
The recycling of metal reduces the growing demand for natural resources such as ore. When more and more metals are recycled, the demand for the natural metal is reduced. On top of that, less energy is required to process scrap metal than it is required to extract ore from the earth, purify it and later shape it into desired shapes and sizes.
The amount of energy saved using various recycled metals compared to virgin ore is up to 92 % for aluminum, 90 % for copper and 56 % for steel. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, if you recycle a single aluminum beverage can, you help conserve enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for more than four hours. The preserved energy can be used for other purposes in the economy.
5. Make Room in Landfills for Non-Recyclable Items
Landfills are becoming more and more overcrowded with both trash and recyclable items. Recycling is a must to preserve this precious landfill space. This particularly pertains to scrap metal recycling an easy material to recycle that can be repurposed for a number of different uses.
6. Improves Air Quality and Groundwater
The garbage in landfills contributes to the emission of greenhouse gases. Keeping metal out of landfills helps reduce this harmful result. Furthermore, when the trash is buried in landfills, it contaminates the soil, eventually making its way into the groundwater supply when rain carries it into the reservoirs holding drinking water.
7. Business Opportunities in Metal Recycling
Traditionally, metal recycling has been regarded as a profitable business opportunity. At an entrepreneurial level, a common entry point into the metal recycling business is through starting scrap metal collection business or becoming a scrap metal vendor. However, in recent years, depressed prices have proved to be challenging.
8. Saves You Money
This is one of the best yet most ignored reasons. If most people recycled metal and metal items on a regular basis, it would be less costly to produce metal in terms of energy and the ore required. This will mean that the actual cost of buying metal will reduce hence saving you some money.
To conclude, metal is an essential resource which should be recycled to ensure a steady supply, prevent environmental degradation and improve the economy.