Lead, like mercury, has become infamous as a toxic metal over the past 50 years. Before its destructive health effects were understood, it had been used from thousand of years prior, in everything from beer mugs to plumbing to roofing! But what can scrap metal recyclers do with this soft, lustrous metal?…Well, something that alchemists have been trying to do for a millennium; turn it into gold! (or maybe just cash…)
What is the Price of Scrap Lead
For a rough estimate of scrap lead pricing in your area, assume a value of about 30% of spot price. This is much lower than most scrap metal prices as a fraction of spot price, and this can be attributed to the complexities of dealing with a toxic, impure, heavy metal like lead.
The value of your scrap lead will depend entirely on current market value, geographical location, what type of lead alloy you are selling, and how much scrap lead you have to sell (bulk pricing).
To get the best price for your scrap lead, call ahead to your local scrap yards, or consider selling on eBay. (Check out, How To Get The Best Scrap Metal Prices.)
Where To Find Scrap Lead
Scrap lead can be found at a fairly limited number of sources. (If you are looking to buy scrap lead, I suggest posting a wanted ad for scrappers to sell to you in our Scrap Metal Recycling Forum.) In my experience, these are the most fruitful places to find salvageable lead scrap, but this list is not exhaustive:
Lead Acid Batteries
Lead acid batteries are 60% Lead alloy by weight, and 40% plastic and acid. The alloy is special because, besides lead, it contains trace amounts of copper, selenium, tin, antimony, and other elements that improve its electrochemical properties.
Lead acid batteries are used in cars, trucks,scooters, forklifts, most large machinery, etc. The more connections to these industries you have, the better your lead acid battery returns will be.
The trick with dealing in automotive battery scrap will always be bulk; The problem with bulk is that is costs money, it requires connections, and sometimes the correct types of environmental certification. If you can weasel your way into dealing exclusively with battery scrap, you will be buying and selling auto batteries for a big chunk of change.
Many auto battery manufacturers buy back their batteries by the pallet-full for a premium. If you have the ability to save your batteries, it could mean huge gains.
In addition to car batteries, lead acid battery are found in a number of other places, from children’s toys, to electric scooters. Keep your eye out, and you will find lead acid batteries in all sorts of places!
Lead Radiation ShieldsLead Radiation shields are used in any type of radiation releasing process… For example, when you get an X-Ray at the dentist, they first make you wear a lead apron.
Lead radiation shields are most often used in university and hospital settings. The more connections you have to specialized contractors and maintenance at these facilities, the more often you will be handling lead scrap.Scrap lead can also be found in the form of containers for natural radio-nucleotides and other radiation sources. The amount of radiation left in this lead, however, changes their desirability for recycling.
Lead solder is generally worth much more than scrap value, so think before you sell!
Modern lead solder is very rarely 100% lead; instead it is usually a majority of tin or antimony. Lead solder is more valuable than lead because it has these more expensive elements, which lowers the alloy’s melting point and increases its usefulness.
If you have lead solder of any type, I suggest you save it for resale value instead of selling to a scrap yard.
Weights and Ballasts
Despite the more recent environmental activism that has made lead weights more regulated to consumers, scrap lead weights are still second to none in terms of heavy weight in a small amount of space for a cheap price.
Lead’s high density has made it a go to metal when trying to add weight; whether it’s to a boat, a fishing line , or a wheel, lead weights are still as useful as ever.
Wheels weights are one common pace to find lead weights. Additionally, manufacturers of lead sinkers/weights are generally great places to sell your scrap lead, if you are not selling on eBay.
Bullets and Shot
By scrapping standards, bullets only have a bit of lead in them; On average:
12-gauge shotgun shell – 28 grams of lead per shell (~16 shells to a pound of lead)
45 automatic pistol match ammunition – 12.0 grams of lead per shell (~38 shells to a pound of lead)
308 Winchester round – 9.7 grams of lead per shell (~47 shells to a pound of lead)
30-30 Winchester round – 8.1 grams of lead per shell (~ 56 shells to a pound of lead)
9 mm handgun bullet – 7.5 grams of lead per shell (~ 60 shells to a pound of lead
22 caliber rifle bullet – 2.6 grams of lead per shell (~ 175 shells to a pound of lead)
The good news is that lead bullets – and brass casings, and shells – are all worth more then scrap! People love to save money by buying scrap lead to make their own bullets, so keep this in mind when you are looking for a buyer for your lead!
Artwork and handcrafts (Castings, Sculptures, Pewter, Stained Glass Came)
There is a surprising amount of lead used for artistic purposes. Things like stained glass came, or some types of pewter, have significant amounts of lead in them. These types of lead items, if in usable condition, are always worth more than scrap value.
Pre-WWII era roofing materials and Plumbing materials
These types of plumbing and roofing materials are in many cases a bit dated, and in even more cases they are downright dangerous to consumer health. Lead pipes and lead roofing flashing were used in older homes from the early 1900’s, and are still being replaced today.
In fact, any lead that was smelted prior to WWII is probably considered very high value Low Alpha Lead (read more below).
(In consumer product – especially food grade applications – lead is no longer used for health reasons.)
Lead acid batteries are the most common type of lead scrap you will find in every day recycling, followed by weights,ballasts, and bullets. The rest of your lead scrap will depend on where you live, who you are networking with, etc. (For example, in a University or Hospital setting, you will be much more likely to find lead radiation shields)
Where To Sell Scrap Lead
The trick with selling scrap lead is knowing who wants to buy it, and scrap yards generally do NOT pay the best prices. Used lead acid batteries, for example, can be sold in bulk to battery manufacturers. (Otherwise, some auto shops will pay you more than scrap price for “core price.”)
In addition, scrap lead is often wanted by those who cast bullets or fishing weights. You can sell to these merchants by posting ads on Craigslist, or in our fast growing Scrap Metal Junkie Forum.
Last but not least, you can always sell your scrap lead on eBay! (Read more on the sale of scrap metal on eBay.)
Safety When Handling Scrap Lead Recyclables
The health issues associated with lead aren’t a problem when the metal is properly handled; the problem is when it inadvertently gets into our bodies.
The worst problems associated with lead poisoning come about with chronic exposure; handling lead for many days at a time will cause many organs in your body to fail…
This is why it is always important to wear gloves when handling lead. When cutting lead, always wear a respirator to avoid inhaling the lead into your lungs.
Valuable Low-Alpha Lead Scrap
Low-alpha lead scrap is a special name given to lead scraps that were originally smelted prior to 1945. Recently, low alpha lead has been reported to be worth 50x-200x regular scrap lead prices. Low alpha lead is found in old roofing (lead roofing on churches), as old lead piping, old lead bullets, etc. The older the lead, the more valuable it is for low-alpha purposes, like making special solders and special components. If you are an interested buyer of Low alpha lead, please contact me by email or post in our Metal Recycling Forum.
Best of Luck, Scrappers !