Advantages & disadvantages of recycling metal

Image by, courtesy of Dave Morris

The amount of aluminium and steel cans that Americans use every day could fill the country's need for aeroplanes every three months. Although all metals are recyclable, most scrap metal does not get recycled. Governments and environmentalists are promoting the recycling of metals, which has a multitude of economic and environmental benefits, but recycling metals does have a few downsides.


Non-iron based metals such as aluminium and steel cans have some of the highest recycling rates. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency statistics show that 48.2 per cent of aluminium cans are recycled, along with 62.8 per cent of steel cans. Of the 250 million tons of waste that enters the municipal stream, metals account for 21 million tons, or 8.4 per cent.


Some metals, especially aluminium, are so profitable to recycle that companies pay people and businesses for their used metal, according to Waste Care Corporation. Recycled aluminium cans alone generate £520 million each year, which often goes to charitable organisations. Metals are usually completely recyclable, which reduces the environmental impact of mining for metal, reports GreenStudentU.


Aluminium, steel and other metals need to be manually separated from other recyclable material such as plastic and paper, according to Waste Care. Metals, especially aluminium, tend to degrade after each reuse cycle, so products using recycled metals can vary in quality, but most metals never reach a point where they are no longer recyclable. Recycling metals still uses energy, albeit about 95 per cent less than new production.


A few preventive steps can maximise metal recycling advantages while reducing the disadvantages. Clean out any steel or aluminium cans before taking them to a recycling centre; recycling plants will often pay more for metal free of any debris. Some recycling centres may ask that the metals be separated. If a magnet does not stick to a metallic product, it is probably aluminium.


Some states and local governments now have laws that mandate the recycling of metals and other materials, according to Waste Care. Florida's Lee County requires the recycling of metals and other scraps in the hopes of making future recycling cheaper. Check any state and local laws before throwing out useful material like steel and aluminium, or face the possibility of stiff fines.

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