How to Make Money Recycling Scrap Metals

United States
@drandy (13)
December 16, 2006 7:28pm CST
Introduction Have you ever heard the term "Found Money"? Well, if there ever was such a thing then recycling scrap metals is it. Way back when I started doing it I got lots of strange looks from people when they saw me stopping along the road to pick up a piece of wire or a strip of car molding. That was back before we recycled newspapers and household cans and bottles as is so popular today. Not only can you make some decent "pin" money doing it, but it can become a decent hobby, especially for retired people. It's the easiest thing in the world to do. There is just so much of it to be found it's almost like it comes to you. Just take a walk down your street for just a few hundred yards and notice how many discarded metal items you come across. Cans are the most common but, bits of wire, hub caps, and all sorts of other things as well. Each of these items I've mentioned have a value. In some cases their value might be small but, remember, it all adds up. When you accumulate, say, 50 pounds of something, then you're starting to talk about money. For example, if you have 50 pounds of aluminum and the current rate for it is 45 to 55 cents a lb. then you have about $25 sitting there. Even if it's iron (which is heavy and 50 pounds of it is easy to find) it could be worth a few dollars. Some of you may still be thinking; "That's still peanuts and it wouldn't be worth my trouble". Think about it again. The fact of the matter is that it doesn't take very long to accumulate 50 pounds of metal. Aluminum and iron are the most commonly found and they add up very quickly. A few aluminum doors and some gutters and you have fifty pounds. A wheelbarrel load of iron pipe and you have 75 to a 100 pounds of iron. If you really have an eye for spotting it you can collect 200 pounds of metal in short order. Where and How to Find It Now mind you, I'm not talking about doing all your hunting by just walking down the street. Just train yourself to watch out of the corner of your eye for curbside piles on trash day. You'll soon be amazed at how much you find. Storm doors, car batteries, gutters, pipes, bed springs, sinks, copper tubing, and much more. All of these things are worth money and for years you've been passing it by never thinking twice about it. Another good way to find "junk" (as all veteran recyclers call it) is to find out when your localities pick up bulk throw aways. No, this isn't garbage day, I mean when they come around picking up leaves, lumber, tires, gas stoves, and all the other bulk items. Once having established this schedule all you have to do is either drive around the night before or early that morning and check out the piles to be picked up. I guarantee that you'll find all sorts of amazing things-some of which might not even be scrap metals. Very often you'll find perfectly good items which you can use yourself or sell at garage sales (this is another subject for another article). Practically anything made of metal is worth something to a scrap metal dealer. Some things, however are getting hard to get rid of though. These are usually in the household appliance family. In recent years refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, driers, and the like are refused by junk dealers. Your town will dispose of them but at a price per item basis which is factored into your annual property taxes. This is not to say that these are completely worthless at all as parts of them are salvageable. The wires on all electric appliances are worth snipping off and putting in your collection heap. Believe me they add up. Copper tubing on hot water heating is worth hack sawing off. If you've got the time (and the stubborn disposition) the hot water tank is worth something too as it's iron and rather heavy. In some areas you are still allowed to pick scrap at the town dump. This can be a literal treasure trove to an avid junk man. You'll find much the same as you'd find at curbside pick times but much more of it. I caution you to ask about the policy of your local landfill on this as this is getting harder and harder to find given the exorbitant cost of liability insurance these days, municipalities are very law suit conscious. Another often overlooked way of collecting junk is to just get the word around that you interested in finding it. Many people have items they feel they're stuck with but if it's made of metal you should get it. Storing and Sorting Once you've gotten this far the next thing you need is a place to store it. A corner of your back yard is the usual place for it. If you're an apartment dweller, fear not. Everyone knows someone who owns a house. It could be a relative or a friend-whoever it might be see if you can get them to agree to allowing you to store it in an out of sight corner of their yard. Often they'll let you do it for free but, if not, offer them a little bit of the profits. Once you've found a place to store it you have to maintain some sort of rhyme and reason in sorting it out. This is quite simple as you sort it in much the same way you would sort out anything else. Stack it in piles this way: aluminum in one stack (sub-categorize it by light aluminum and heavy aluminum. See section below about identification and categorizations of scrap metals for details). Another stack for car batteries. Another for copper (again, remember the sub-categories of light and heavy types of copper). And so on for each type of metal you have until you have a coherent system that is easy to manage. Where to Take the Scrap The next thing you need to know is where to redeem your scrap for money. This is easy as scrap metal dealers are commonly found all around the country. You can look them up in the yellow pages under scrap metal, scrap metal dealers, recycling, or any combination of related terms. Most of them will buy not only commonly found scrap metals like, copper and iron but, often they'll be interested in less commonly found metals such as tungsten and chromium too. The Metals and Their Characteristics (prices based on highs and lows over the last decade) Having gotten this far the only thing left to explain is about the different metals themselves. That is, what are the metals, what are their characteristics, where to find them, how to salvage them, and what are they worth. Each metal has its own characteristics and practical usages. Both of these aid in your search for them. this part of the business is much like identifying trees, birds, or any other thing else in that what you need to do is look for characteristics and accumulate evidence until you can confidently say that you can definitively say that you know which metal you have in your possession. Aluminum - This is a lightweight metal with a dull silver color. Sometimes magnesium is mistaken for aluminum as it looks the same and is also light weight. The big difference is that magnesium is flammable. Just touch a piece of it with a torch and magnesium will ignite and glow with a blinding glare. That's why it's used in flares. It breaks easily as you will find if you flex a piece of it back and forth a few times it will snap off. It is used in lawn furniture, car trim, hand rails, gutters and leaders, storm doors, beverage cans, transmission housings, heavy electrical cable, power tool housings, screening, hub caps, and on rare occasions someone will use it as a low pressure plumbing fixture or pipe. Aluminum is often classified by dealers as heavy or light grade. Light being things like soda cans and lawn furniture while heavy is all the rest. Some dealers bunch it all together. In the case of lawn furniture it's advisable to remove all plastic as this degrades its value. Price: 35 to 55 cents a pound. Iron - This is magnetic so just a touch with a magnet will give it away. Also it's very heavy and rusts. Iron is used in everything from cars to girder beams to pipes. Being that it's heavy and common it doesn't take long to accumulate a lot of it. Accordingly, its value is low too, but remember that with iron you're dealing with a lot of weight so it can add up. Price: 3 to 4 cents a pound. Stainless Steel - Although this has iron it's non magnetic or only slightly magnetic. If it's strongly magnetic then it's classified as "magnetic stainless" and must be sold as iron. Stainless is heavy and has a dull shine. It is used in car trim, hub caps, hand rails, and beer kegs. Price: 15 to 40 cents a pound. Lead - This is heavy, soft, dull gray, and has a low melting point. It is used in piping, as weights in scuba diving, it comes in ingots to be melted for joining together iron pipes in sewer lines, and as fishing sinkers. Price: 8 to 15 cents a pound. Copper - This is the familiar red metal used in household tubing. In time copper will turn green from exposure to moisture. It's used in wire, tubing, and plumbing fittings most commonly. Copper is classified in several categories. There are light, medium, and heavy which is wire, tubing, and tanks. Then there is clean and dirty which is often an arbitrary call by the dealer as it means that if it's dirty it has some contaminants on it such as solder or brass fittings. If it has a lot of brass fittings on it then the dealer may only offer you the price of brass so it's to your benefit if you take the time and cut off the fittings. Copper wire has different classifications too. There is burned or stripped (burned is usually considered dirty copper, especially the heavier gauges of wire). Burning off the insulation is the fastest method of removing the insulation but, it is an ecological disaster and if you're caught you can get a hefty fine from the authorities. Stripping it takes longer but, it has the advantage of being classified as clean copper which is worth a little bit more. The other classification for copper wire is unburned or unstripped which is worth only half of what it's worth stripped. Price: 35 cents to $1 a pound. Brass