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What Is Metal Recycling and How to Recycle Metal?

  • Metal recycling, Metals are versatile materials that have been used to make everyday materials for centuries. Metals are valuable non-renewable natural resources. They are strong, durable, malleable, and conductive, and they serve as essential raw materials for a wide variety of uses, such as in the production of tools, construction, and electronics Steel, aluminum, and copper are some of the most widely used metals but recent technologies such as smartphones have created a market for rare earth metals, which as the name suggests are not only rare but also expensive. Given that metals are not a renewable resource, recycling has emerged as a very efficient way to retrieve metal from existing products when they reach the end of their lifecycles and recycle into new products.

    How does metal recycling work?

    Metals are among the best performing materials when it comes to recycling. Unlike some other types of recyclable materials, such as paper and plastics that tend to degrade their value over time and have a limit to how many times they can be recycled, metals can be recycled almost indefinitely and never lose their structural value. Aluminum, steel, gold, silver, brass, and copper are just some of the metals that can be and are recycled. In fact, steel is the most recycled material on the planet; in 2014, more than 86 percent of steel was recycled. Metal recycling is a booming industry; in the UK alone, it has reached an estimated £5.6 billion employing around 8,000 people. There are also clear environmental benefits to metal recycling, specifically increased resource use but also carbon dioxide emission savings. For example, recycling one ton of steel saves 80 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions produced when making steel

    The process of metal recycling: What exactly happens?

    With the majority of our everyday objects containing some sort of metal, it is worth knowing a bit more about what happens when they leave our doorstep for recycling.

    Step 1: Collection

    The first thing in metal recycling is, as with every recycling process, the need to ensure that the metal gets to our recycling bin. In many cases, articles containing metals are complex or large objects such as electronic and electrical equipment, white goods, or cars. To help collection of these objects, producers, and retailers often set up specialized collection systems where consumers can have larger items picked up or where central locations where they can be dropped off.

    Step 2: Sorting

    Once collected, the metals are sorted to make sure that those that can be recycled undergo that process and to also ensure that only items of high quality enter the recycling process. This will ensure a high-quality recycled product.
    The sorted metal is then processed and essentially squeezed together so it occupies less space when it goes on the conveyor belt, on its way to being recycled!

    Step 3: Shredding

    The bails of metal are then shredded and broken into tiny pieces. This is the most important preparatory step as the metal will need to be melted. In smaller pieces, the metal can be melted in lower temperatures.

    Step 4: Melting

    Once in tiny pieces, the metal is placed in a large furnace which is optimized for melting the specific metal to be recycled. Depending on the metal the recycling process can take a few minutes or several hours.

    Step 5: Purification

    The next step is the purification process which ensures that the final product is of any impurities and of the highest quality. There are several methods to do this, but common ones are electrolysis or using powerful magnetic systems that separate the metal.

    Step 6: Cooling and solidification

    The melted metal is then carried out to a cooling chamber so it can solidify. The metal can solidify in different shapes depending on how the metal will be used. Usually, steel solidifies in steel blocks whereas aluminum is cooled into sheets. Once the metal has cooled, it is ready to be sent off to a manufacturing site where it can be integrated into a brand-new product. And that’s the metal’s lifecycle!

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