Metal is among the most recyclable materials we use. Its durability and physical properties mean metal can be melted down, purified and reused many times. However, the recycling of metal is sometimes more complex than recycling other products, such as papers and plastics. There are both pros and cons to metal recycling that are important to understand for greater environmental awareness.
Pro: Less Waste
Perhaps the most obvious advantage of recycling metal is that it produces less waste. Metal that would otherwise end up in a landfill is instead able to be reused. This is especially useful since metal would otherwise take a long time to break down naturally if it was thrown away.
Con: More Transport
Recycling metal requires an extensive network of trucks, sorting facilities and factories. This puts more carbon-emitting vehicles on the road and adds a step to the process. Also, since metal is heavy, it costs a great deal more to transport than lighter plastics and other recyclable materials.
Pro: Income Source
Some people make a significant amount of money salvaging scrap metal and selling it to recyclers. Certain types of metal, like copper wire and gold plating, are especially valuable. Other materials like iron and steel may fetch a lower price but can be salvaged in huge volumes, such as through the demolition of old cars or industrial machinery. Salvage yards are usually small businesses that are funded by the scrap metal they sell for recycling.
Con: Energy Usage
The recycling centres that transform scrap metal into a pure, usable form consume huge amounts of energy to do so. In part this is because metal is so durable. It takes a great deal of heat to melt it down, and more energy to properly filter and recast it. These factories not only consume power, but they also produce emissions and occupy large expanses of land.
Pro: Less Mining
Another advantage of recycling metal is that it removes the need to find as much new metal through mining. The process of extracting metals from the ground is expensive, time consuming and energy intensive. By keeping mining to a minimum, recycling programs benefit parts of the world far from the places where the metal is eventually used and reused.