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Having Your Own Scrap Heap

Scrap Metal has been a form of recycling long before it became fashionable in an ECO sense. The important thing to realise is that scrap metal is not rubbish; it is valuable recyclable material ready to be put into good use as material rather than having to mine more ore out of the ground. Oddly, though, scrap heaps have never been considered by folks to be a nice thing to have in the neighbourhood.

The subject of scrap first enjoyed success here when I described what to do with scrap cars, which explains how to dismantle an old car and sell the useful spares, and I included a paragraph about the proper recycling of the scrap iron such that it has a positive value.

The thing is, though, you can recycle all kinds of metal if you know how to handle it. The trick is to separate it out to some reasonable extent. Any old iron (and steel) goes into one heap. Aluminium goes into another heap. If you're lucky enough to some some lead, that's a valuable recyclable material too, and needs to be kept separate. Most valuable, though, is the copper wire. Whether burned or unburned, it's a valuable material and can be recycled into new cable (instead of more copper having to be mined out of the ground).

Values of the different metals vary as the market changes, but one thing you can be sure of is that the metals are worth more as separate heaps than as one "weighing in" bulk.

You don't need to be a scrap merchant to understand the economic logic of having scrap heaps.

Here are some helpful categories of scrap metal which you can identify, sort, and then cash in on!:

* Iron: Iron and steel, as in the public announcement "any old iron!". Although commonplace, the weight soon adds up, and anything vaguely metallic which can't properly be identified goes on the "iron heap". The typical form is "light iron" which includes almost all of the remains of washing machines (apart from the drum, any pieces of concrete, and the washing machine glass door), motor vehicle wreckage (apart from the tyres), and pieces sliced off various ruined machinery. Iron/steel is easy to recognise by some classic techniques: If it rusts, it's assumed to be iron. If it sticks to a magnet, then unless there's something unusual about it, it's assumed to be iron.

Heavy iron is worth more per ton than light iron, but not many things are made of "heavy iron" regardless of their weight. (Cast Iron is "heavy iron").

Stainless steel is also worth more than iron. Stainless steel sinks, and washing machine drums, are the right sort of stuff. It's especially prized if it's "austentic", ie it's got a sufficiently high percentage of chromium and other valuable metals that magnets no longer stick to it at room temperature.

* Aluminium: Pure aluminium is often referred to by scrap merchants as "alloy" or "ally", etc, despite the metal being a pure element! The stuff is clearly identifiable by its light weight (low density), and being a shiny metal that doesn't corrode much. Aluminium does not stick to magnets!

As well as pure aluminium, which is worth quite a lot, there is also a commodity referred to as "iron aluminium". That is, a pile of aluminium which still has a few iron nuts & bolts left in it. This is worth considerably less than pure aluminium, but you have to consider if it's worth putting the time and effort in to separate it. A good compromise is to separate all the easy stuff and to leave the awkward bits for some diehard recycler to tackle.

So, in addition to the main "ferrous" heap of rusting iron and steel, there's a heap of aluminium, and another of "iron aluminium".

* Copper: Shiny metal with a reddish colour, copper is a heavy material which has a high value per kilo. Easy to recognise by the colour, whether in its pure metal form (copper coloured!) or when it has tarnished to a fine green shade of verdigris. Lumps of copper, sheets of copper, etc, are relatively uncommon in scrap. Copper wire is the more usual form. Of course it would be nice to have just the copper wire on its own, as that would be worth the most. However, this is rare, and more often the wire is still inside the insulating plastic or rubber. One way to solve this is to burn the stuff! However, you should think twice before attempting such a rash thing, as the raging fire is dangerous and the smoke given off is toxic, dangerous, a pollution hazard, etc. The burning works very well to separate the copper metal from the insulation, as the copper will survive fire, whereas the insulation will turn to black powdered ash which can be smashed and swept up. Unfortunately the noxious fumes and fire hazard makes the whole idea inadvisable. It can upset the neighbours, and it's not good for the ecology.

I knew a scrapman who had an ingenious solution to the copper wire problem. If someone owed him money, and they pretended not to be at home, he'd offload a heap of unburnt scrap copper wire onto their land and set it on fire! Then, the debtor would have an unfortunate choice, either to confront the scrapman with "Oy! What are you doing lighting a fire on my land!?" which would of course reveal the debtor's evasiveness as well as their presence, or to continue to pretend to be out, in which case the fire would run to completion, after which the pure metal would be carted away by the scrapman. Needless to say, this method of dealing with bad credit is not recommended as good practice in the world of finance management!

Other things worth knowing: Copper is heavier than iron! Also, it has one of the highest conductivities among the easily-available metals. That's why it's used for wire.

* LEAD: Although unfashionable because of its association with toxicity, the heavy soft metal lead is completely recyclable and has many uses. Lead is used as sheeting on roofs, where it remains for years resisting water. In fact, it's so good at being waterproof that it's a wonder it's not used more for boats! What's that criticism? It's heavier than water? Well fancy that! So is steel, and that's quite good for shipbuilding! Meanwhile, lead was used for many years for pipework, for gas and for water, hence the term "plumbing" which means lead-working. Gas pipes made of lead were OK in most circumstances. Lead water pipes weren't too bad in a hard water area as they'd soon acquire an internal layer of limescale, but in a soft water area they could be a problem. However, old lead pipes typically end up recycled as scrap lead.

If you feel adventurous, you might dare to melt down scrap lead in an iron saucepan. The result is hot and heavy, and requires ventilation as you don't want to inhale the fumes. Nevertheless, with some care and good sense, it's possible to mould the lead into interesting items. Surprisingly, newly-formed solid lead is not dull, but is a shiny silvery metal, and only tarnishes after a few weeks. Oh what fun! But be careful you don't spill it. It is very heavy even as a liquid in an iron saucepan.

Another form in which scrap lead appears, is car batteries. Although heavy, their value is considerably reduced by the other stuff involved, and they can't be melted down easily without making a terrible mess. This is a fact at the industrial level, and this is manifested in practice with the value of the scrap lead car batteries being low. They are still worth recycling, though.

* Brass: Clearly recognisable yellow metal, and quite valuable if you can get enough of it. Don't let the scrap merchant lump it in as "mixed" with anything else.

* Zinc: Shiny metal zinc in its pure form is worth separating. At a distance it may look a bit like aluminium, but it's much heavier. (This is not the same thing as galvanised steel, which only has a thin surface of zinc). Pure zinc doesn't stick to magnets.

* Gold: It may seem odd to see gold on a list of scrap, but a combination of its prolific use in electronics and inflated price because of warlike tendencies by some previous bad governments, has resulted in gold being a valid item for scrap. Gold edge connectors from circuit boards, gold pins on chips, etc, are worth separating onto the gold scrapheap. This is more efficient than scrapping heaps of circuit boards. Also, as well as being more efficient to separate the gold pins and edge connectors, the terms are better. You get paid most of the value of the gold finally extracted, rather than per kilogramme of waste material. (Having a gold scrapheap may look good, but it's best to be discreet about it, to avoid it becoming bait to attract thieves). Note: Jewellers tend to pay better for scrap gold than "cash for gold" types of places.

Other things: Scrap recycling is not exclusively for metals. Some non-metallic materials can be recycled in a similar way, sometimes at a profit. Plastics, for example, with their type-numbers in triangular symbols, are recyclable. Unfortunately the cost of separation makes this awkward, along with the low price per ton. Paper, recyclable, especially if you can find tons of it. Glass, as bottles, also has a per-ton value. There may come a time when these things are practical to stack up on a domestic scale, but the problems are higher than with the metals. In the meantime, it is worth recycling these things for good causes and for the ecological good sense of it.

If you decide to have scrap metal heaps on your garden, and to separate out the different metals, you may find you don't even need to take the stuff to a scrap merchant. Sooner or later a scrap merchant may come to visit and may put in some sporting offers for the different metals. You need to be aware of the approximate per-ton market values of the different metals so you can haggle with some proficiency. However the fact that you've had the good sense to pile the metals up separately shows you're no fool with metal. It's good if, after some reasonable haggling, a good deal can be made. On the sale, here are some guideline rules to consider applying:

* The deals are made and everyone's clear about what the deals are.

* You get paid in cash up front before any metal is taken away.

* Clear boundaries are established to denote where a heap begins and ends, so there is no confusion on whether other items in your garden get included.

* The iron and other ferrous materials are to be taken away first, before the valuable aluminium and copper.

* All of the stuff on the ferrous heap must be taken away, not leaving behind any awkward or messy stuff.

* Everyone sticks to their side of the bargain.

* You take digital photographs of the event, which happen to include shots of the scrap merchant's vehicle.

After the job is done, everyone's happy, as you've got paid some cash, the scrap merchant has made some profit, and your garden is minus the scrap heaps. This may also cheer up the neighbours. The environment implicitly thanks you, as the metal you've recycled helps to support a sustainable metal industry, reducing dependency on the world's mineral ore deposits.

This page is part of Zyra.at which is part of Zyra's website www.zyra.org.uk . You may find it worth bookmarking it as there's a lot of other useful stuff like this. It's not a site purely about scrap, you know!