ABC's of Recycling,

N : All About Non-Ferrous Metals

Feb 01 2023

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ABC’s of Smart Recycling Reviews the Chemistry of Metals, Magnet Power and Why Not to Crush Your Cans

Metals make up a huge part of our everyday world–from the coins in our pockets to the siding and gutters on our houses. Luckily, metals are highly renewable resources. Many types of metal can be melted down and re-used. (Especially aluminum!) Large or small, rusty or shiny, many metals can be recycled, if you know where and how.

Chemistry of Metals

When it comes to recycling, metals are sorted into two categories: ferrous or non-ferrous.

What’s “ferrous?” Iron content. (Chemistry-nerd review: Iron is known as (Fe) on the Periodic Table, from the Latin ‘ferrum’ which means, yep–iron!) Ferrous metals contain iron. How can you test for iron? If it sticks to a magnet, there’s iron in there.

Non-ferrous metals have no attraction to magnets. Metals like aluminum, copper, lead, zinc, even gold, are good examples. Many of these metals are both recyclable and valuable.

Eddy current separator illustration by ScienceDirect

Your non-ferrous aluminum cans are sorted from your recycling bin, at your local MRF (murf), with the help of a machine called an eddy-current separator. The machine uses magnets pushing against their alternating poles to create a force field that lifts light-weight cans into a separate collection bin. Watch the magic of magnets as cans fly up off the conveyor belt in this :15 second video!

Some recycling facilities also use robotic optical sorters. These sorters work best when aluminum cans are full sized, not crushed. No more hockey-puck, smashed cans, please! Full-sized cans are easier for the machine to sort. And always leave the tabs attached to the can because tiny bits of metal are harder for the machines to “see.”

Scrap Metal Pays

In addition to aluminum cans, your home has many metal objects that can be recycled using a scarp metal recycler. Here’s a few common household items you can keep out of landfill by taking they to scrap metal recycling:

  • metal hangers, keys, pots and pans, fencing, curtain rods, gates, car wheels, bike chains …the list goes on and on!
  • Gold and silver are both non-ferrous metals and broken chains or other jewelry can also be sold or donated.

Did you know scrap metal recyclers will pay for a whole list of metal materials? For details and a list of non-ferrous scrap that can be recycled locally, try here.

Another local source for scrap metal recycling is Wheaton’s monthly recycling event, which is held the second Saturday of the month from 9am-12noon. Metal materials, both ferrous and non-ferrous, can be dropped off, along with many other recyclable items. Here’s a list of recyclable items for the February event.

SCARCE founder, Kay McKeen says, “We often pick up metal objects we find while we’re out for a walk. Everything from paper clips to construction nails. We save them in a bucket in the garage. When the bucket’s full, we take it over to scrap metal-easy as that!”

Recycling your scrap metal keeps valuable resources out of our landfill and reduces your impact on global warming. It’s as easy at that!

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