Recycling is something that everyone can do to help the environment. Almost anything can be recycled, including glass, paper and metal products. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that metals accounted for 34.6 percent of all solid waste recovered for recycling in 2008, making it the second-largest segment of recycled materials after paper. The process for recycling metals involves several key steps, and understanding the process may encourage people to maximize their recycling efforts.
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The first step in the metal-recycling process is the collection of materials to be recycled. Aluminum, tin and steel cans can be collected at home. Check with your local recycling center to see if curbside collection is available or whether you will need to transport materials yourself. For larger items, such as old appliances or scrap vehicles, contact your local recycling center to make arrangements to have them picked up.
Once the collected metals reach the recycling center, they are then sorted according to the type of metal they're made of. If you're dropping off your recyclables, you should separate steel, aluminum, copper, etc. and deposit them in the appropriate areas. According to Far West Fibers, the metals will first be passed under a large magnet to separate all the steel materials. Aluminum products may be tested for moisture content and overall quality, while copper materials are visually inspected and graded. Steel cans that have a tin electroplating will be washed with a caustic chemical substance to remove the tin outer layer.
Once the various metals have been separated, they will then be fed into a machine which cuts and shreds them into tiny pieces. According to Schnitzer Steel, a Fortune 1000 company in Portland, Oregon that specializes in scrap metal recycling, the shredded materials are sorted into ferrous and nonferrous materials and tested for radiation. Aluminum cans also undergo a delacquering process after shredding to remove any paint or other materials.
Baling and Melting
Once the different metals have been sorted and shredded, they are compressed into cubes or bales, which make it easier for them to be transported to smelting facilities. When the metals reach the smelting facilities, the bales are fed into a furnace where they are heated until they become molten metal. The molten metal is then poured into casters, billets or molds to form ingots, which can weigh up to 40,000 pounds, according to the American Beverage Association.
Once the metal ingots have cooled and hardened, they are put into a machine that rolls them into flat sheets, which form the basis for new metal materials. According to Far West Fibers, recycled metals can be used to manufacture new aluminum, tin and steel cans, appliances, cars, building materials, metal piping or tubing, aluminum foil, metal tables and chairs, airplanes and ships.