Metals are some of the most recycled materials in the United States. The Steel Recycling Institute asserts that 75 per cent of all steel in America is recycled, for example, while the Earth911 website reports that people still constructively use about 60 per cent of all aluminium ever produced. The disadvantages of recycling metals temper the benefits and make it debatable as to whether metal recycling is advantageous overall.
Metal is much heavier than materials such as paper or plastic. As a result, it takes more trucks to transport, or the trucks are heavy-duty and thus are less fuel efficient. This translates to more expense in terms of driver hours and gasoline, diesel or ethanol. Additionally, there are expenses for operating the recycling facility. As pointed out by the Recycle Your Metals website, cities often spend more on recycling metal than they make.
Metal is extremely durable. It is this durability that makes the material good for many different projects. However, the durability of metal means that it takes a great deal of energy to break the metal down. Recycling plants have to use more power to recycle metal than they do for other materials.
Emissions and Waste
Like any form of commercial recycling, metal recycling results in some by-products. Some of these by-products are harmless, such as steam. Others like 1,3-butadiene and benzene are toxic and have the potential to damage health and the ozone layer. If people want to recycle metal, it's thus better to reuse the metal in its original form, such as using an aluminium can to hold pencils. However, this is not practical for some metal, such as the metal from old cars.
Metal recycling plants take up land that could be used for other "green" purposes such as agriculture. They are not as aesthetically pleasing as a cultivated area and cannot be used by the general public.
Hazards to Workers
All of the metal that is recycled must be sorted before workers break it down. Unfortunately, some of the metal to be sorted contains sharp edges that can easily cut through gloves and skin. This alone would be a problem, but if the metal also has begun to deteriorate and rust or has any kind of pathogen on it, the worker is subject to diseases like tetanus. Workers also are exposed to the harmful waste the recycling plant produces.