Scrap metal recycling has evolved as the major industry dedicated to transforming materials to create new products and driving economies. It encompasses everything from aluminum foil to clothes hangers, but it can all be recycled in some way.
Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into reusable objects to prevent waste of potentially useful materials, reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials, energy usage, and air and water pollution by decreasing the need for conventional waste disposal and lowering greenhouse gas emissions compared to plastic production. It is the key component of modern waste reduction and is the third component of the “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” waste hierarchy. Recyclable materials include many kinds of glass, paper, metal, plastic, tires, textiles and electronics.
Environmental Impact. The scrap recycling industry annually transforms more than 130 million metric tons of obsolete materials from consumers, businesses and manufacturers into useful raw materials. Without scrap recycling, more mining and use of virgin natural resources would be required.
Recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions by significantly saving the amount of energy needed to manufacture the products that we buy, build and use. The energy saved by recycling can then be used for other purposes like heating our homes and powering our automobiles.
Consequently, mining wastes, air pollution, and water pollution are reduced by about 70% when a steel mill uses recycled metal scraps.
Economic impact. The recycling business is fairly labor-intensive, and many independent studies have shown that it contributes tens of billions of dollars to the country’s gross domestic product. In 2011, a seminal study by the Institute for Scrap Metal Recycling found that nearly 500,000 jobs had been created by the industry. Total federal, state and local tax receipts from the activities of scrap metal recycling outfits added up to more than $10 billion. Across all 50 states, the industry generated about $90 billion in economic activity.
Cost Effective. The amount of money actually saved through recycling depends on the efficiency of the recycling program used to do it. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance argues that the cost of recycling depends on various factors, such as landfill fees and the amount of disposal that the community recycles. It states that communities start to save money when they treat recycling as a replacement for their traditional waste system rather than an add-on to it and by “redesigning their collection schedules and/or trucks.”
Energy conservation. Recycling helps keep metal waste out of landfills where they would pollute the soil and water, posing a health hazard to humans and wildlife. Recycling metals also conserves high amounts of energy. Metals can be recycled and used again and endless number of times, thus resulting in substantial energy savings over the long term. When aluminum is recycled, 95% less energy is consumed, while recycled iron and steel use 74% less energy and copper uses 85% less energy.
In addition to the energy savings, purchasing and using recycled metal also saves valuable natural resources that would otherwise be removed from the environment.
Environmental issues with ore mining can include loss of biodiversity as wildlife habitats and natural land are destroyed. It can cause serious erosion and contamination of the earth. Groundwater and surface water is polluted by chemicals that are used in the mining process and acid mine drainage caused by large scale disturbance of the earth. Leaking chemicals can also negatively affect the health of the local human population.
Finally, using secondary raw materials through metal recycling minimizes the use of natural resources when making metal compounds. Recycled metals directly reduce the demand for production of new metal from mined ores. The process of recycling metals mitigates the need to extract non-renewable metal ores through mining. As there is only a finite amount of ore on Earth, not having to dig for it is good for the earth both in terms of resources and aesthetics.