Collecting Scrap Metal

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This is Scrap Metal the only site where you can find great scrap metal recycling and salvage tips every week by checking out the main page! If you havn’t done so already, please browse the Scrappers Handbook!

Preamble; Please read these pages for more info:


Scrap metal recycling is the future. To some people, it sounds like dystopia; to others, nirvana. The undeniable truth, however, is that it is an opportunity to make a fiscally and environmentally lucrative investment.

People love to talk about recycling like it is a selfless act, strictly done out of love for mother earth. That may be the case for those who set little bits of paper at the street in a green bin. But the real recycling is done for money. It is done for cash money, and I’m not talking Washingtons. I’m talking Benjamins. An average person with a truck can make up to $40,000 a year scrapping metal if they work full time. If they scrap part time as a second job, they could easily make $15,000; thats $290 a week. One extra perk, there are no taxes taken out of your pay check.

Scrap metal has been one of the biggest exports in north america for the last five or ten years. It has gained popularity in that time due mainly to the increase in demand for base metals. Copper in 2006 was getting scrapped at around $2.80, when, in 2000, you were lucky to get 50 cents. The trend is likely to continue: commodities are going up, inflation is kicking ass, and the rest of the world is looking for materials too. The truth is, I don’t see the act of scrapping metal going away any time soon. I see it taking over. I can see a day when you get paid for all your trash so waste management can sort all of the recyclables. Oh, and there’s jet packs.


The Pieces:

Scrapping metal may seem daunting at first, but in reality, it is simple. You find scrap metal, you sell scrap metal. You get paid more for having more metal. You get paid more for having the expensive metal. And you get paid the most when you have more of the expensive metal. Here are just a few of the more common metals:

Currently, some cheaper metals are: iron, and tin
Some moderate metals are: zinc, aluminum, and lead
Some expensive metals are: copper, nickel, cobalt, chromium, and tungsten.

For pictures and full descriptions of usual and unusual metals, including computer scrap, check this out!

Now there are many types of alloys, and those above metals are what mostly make up alloys. For example, if you alloy copper and tin you get bronze, and if you alloy copper and zinc you get brass, both of which have high scrap value. If you alloy iron and carbon (not a metal) you get steel (about as valuable as iron). When you alloy steel with chromium, you get a type of stainless steel. Make sure you know some commonly unidentified alloys.

The Game:

Now for the fun part: making money. The first step is to locate and acquire scrap metal. There is a constant flux of scrap being discarded every day and it is the job of a scrapper to have his or her eyes open constantly. When you see scrap on the side of the road, in a dumpster, at a garage sale, or at an auction, you need to have a reasonable idea of its value. You must collect everything when worth it; and no matter what, if it is free, take it. That means the best way to collect scrap metal, is to collect metal that people are throwing out.

To some people the idea of collecting “trash” is disgusting. Well, I agree. Collecting trash is disgusting. Collecting scrap metal, however, is lucrative and enriching.

Look at it like this. On garbage day, everybody is taking a quarter and setting it at the end of their driveway, or in their collection system. Wouldn’t you think that very silly of people? Wouldn’t you walk, or hell, drive through you neighborhood picking up all of those quarters. For every four houses, you would get a dollar. If it was dimes, would you do it? nickels? Pennies? What if you saw dollar bills? This is what is going on every night before collection day in your neighborhood. People are driving along the curb picking up any of the change you leave at the street.

That seems irrational, right? Well, every home throws out some type of metal every day. Lets say each person tosses out 1 pound of scrap every week. That means every second in the USA over $30 in scrap is being thrown away, or 1 billion dollars every year is going in the trash. That is assuming all of the metal is very, very cheap.

So, the afternoon before the trash is collected near your home, drive around looking for what type of change people are throwing to the curb. This means anything from metal broom sticks to appliances. If you find a lawn chair, that’s like a quarter. If you find a big appliance, like a refrigerator, that’s more like a dollar bill. One thing I learned – don’t be afraid to pick up the pennies. In other words, dont hesitate to jump out of your truck to grab a little tiny metal nothing, because you never know what that could lead to. I once jumped out of my truck to grab a small tin box, only to see a mysterious toolbox hidden from my sights. When I popped open the toolbox, I found a giant assortment of brass fittings.

Most people junk hunt with trucks; you could drive around in a car, but you would want to pull a trailer otherwise you wouldn’t be able to pick up much of anything.

Sometimes you may find scrap in places you never thought to look. For instance, every CRT monitor has over 3 dollars of copper in it. If you spent all day harvesting that copper, you could make over $20.00 an hour!

Other things like storage of scrap, trailers to haul scrap, and the best times to go out are debatable.

The value of many things will go up by just accounting for whats inside of the. For example, a small wall plug for your phone is worthless when it breaks. But if you know that the wire is made of copper and the plug part is a copper filled transformer, you suddenly have something worth some value!

The Rules:

So once you get your scrap, what do you do with it?…Well, the answer is simple. Sell it. Sell it for the best deal possible. It may seem obvious, but to some folks its a mystery. I talk to people every day who have absolutely no idea what scrapping metal is. They are so wrapped up as part of a resource digesting machine — they are so far gone from where their discarded commodities are going– that scrap metal seems alien. but I digress. Selling the scrap is really quite easy; the first thing you must do is sort it.

Sorting junk is all about common sense and experience. The more questions you ask at the scrap yard the better. When you ask questions at a scrap yard, they should answer with enthusiasm. If they want to be successful, ultimately, you need to be successful. You can also call ahead, or while you’re working, to get a good handle on things. Because every scrap yard has idiosyncratic procedures and standards, its up to you to figure out what they are looking for.

The first thing, I would say, is to separate  all your metal into ferrous and non ferrous piles. “Ferrous” is latin for iron, so in other words, piles of iron and non iron scrap. The next, is to further subcategorize the non ferrous piles. Copper wire, electric motors, aluminum, zinc, and lead should definitely get separated to the side. Most yards will separate the wire again by % of copper, the aluminum by quality, ect, so find out what they are looking for the next time you go to the yard.

Before your scrap yard weighs all of your stuff, they may or may not ask for identification. Don’t be alarmed, some states require this by law to deter metal theft. Once you are weighted in (however your scrap yard does that) you will most likely get a ticket. That ticket will usually say what quantity and type of metal was brought in, and it will be read at the payout window or booth so you can get paid. The best part is, the money you get will not have any taxes taken out of it!

Scrapping Not Metal?

So metal has recycle value, but what about other things? What about plastic or cardboard or glass? The truth is all of those materials can be scrapped. It just requires a different type of buyer for the job. If you have access to lots of clean plastic or glass, why not find a way to scrap it! Many many materials can get scrapped for around steel price if you are selling the right quality/quantity.


Nobody likes losing. So then how do you start winning? What does it take to make this worth it? As with anything, it takes commitment. It also takes ingenuity and engagement in the community. To scrap is to trek into a whole new world of understanding. If you want to win, you need to work at it. When you pass a catalytic converter on the side of the road, you need to jump out of your car to grab it! You need to tell everyone you can that you scrap. You need to post on Craigslist that you are willing to pick up junk. You need to shop around auction sites looking for deals on scrap. This game is about learning how to see what everybody else can’t


To Sum It Up

Before you go out and put the tips on this website to good use, please remember; Any person can bring a piece of junk to a scrap yard. A Scrap Metal Junkie does it with style, skill, and sensibility. (Oh, and sex appeal.)

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