How to identify & separate scrap metal

Updated April 17, 2017

Recycling scrap metal is a way to contribute to the health of our environment and make a little extra cash in the process. Scrap-metal recycling centres are located all over the United States and are always looking for new heaps of used metal that can be burnt down and reused. These places not only accept all your old metals, they're also usually willing to pay for your contribution. Learning how to identify, separate and sort scrap metal will assist you in getting the most out of your scrap-metal recycling experience.

Set out six large cardboard boxes to place items in and ease the sorting process. Label the boxes as follows: iron, aluminium, batteries, brass, steel and copper. These are the six categories used by the scrap metal recycling industry.

Start with the "Aluminum" box. Put things like soda and other cans, aluminium furniture, aluminium car pieces and storm doors in this box. Soda cans will likely be the easiest to find, but keep in mind, the idea is to go for more weight if you're interested in making money off your recycling.

Take a magnet and scan it over metal items. Place the items that have a magnetic attraction to the magnet in the "Iron" box. This is the quickest way to identify what pieces of metal are iron. Another option is to look for the formation of rust on the metal. Items that are usually made of iron include pipes, cars and pieces of home appliances.

Look at all the remaining metal items and find the ones that have the appearance of iron without the magnetic pull. All of these items go straight to the "Stainless Steel" box. Items made of stainless steel include beer kegs, stair hand rails and vehicle trim.

Gather any old car batteries you've found or have laying around and place them in the "Batteries" box. Car batteries are 100% recyclable and have many reusable parts including the plastic, lead and acid.

Place metal items that are red or stained green from water damage in the "Copper" box. Copper is easy to obtain from things like old electrical wiring pieces, other wire and plumbing fittings.

Place items that have a yellow-tinged colour in the "Brass" bin. Brass items include door knobs, car radiators, sink drains and fixtures and light fixtures.

Things You'll Need

  • 6 cardboard boxes
  • Magnet
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About the Author

Catherine Fiorentino began work as a professional freelance writer in 2006. Since then she has written for several online content websites, private clients and blogs. Fiorentino has an Associate of Arts in journalism and mass communication from Kent State University.