How recycling metals helps the environment

Metals are everywhere. They are used in many different products, both domestic and industrial, but the good news is that most are recyclable. All ferrous metals (iron and stainless steel for example) can be recycled as well as many non-ferrous types such as copper and aluminium, and even precious metals like the gold and platinum that are found in computers.

There are four main reasons why recycling metal is good for the environment:

Recycling metals…

  • … saves energy
    Less energy is used to recycle metals than to produce them from scratch – for example, up to 92% of energy is saved in the recycling of aluminium alone.
  • … saves valuable raw materials
    Recycling preserves natural resources such as coal and iron ore that are used in the production of metals. Many metals are becoming rare due to over-demand.
  • … reduces pollution
    Metals taken to landfill cause toxic chemicals to leach into the earth. It’s also a cleaner process to recycle, rather than create new.
  • … prevents the destruction of habitats from mining
    Wildlife habitats are lost at mining sites. The clearing of trees, plants, and topsoil leads to soil erosion and destruction of agricultural land, which in turn leads to more pollution.

Some products contain a variety of different metals. Smartphones, for example, are made up of around 30 different elements, including gold, silver and copper, most of which can be extracted and recycled. Most household waste and recycling centres have containers marked ‘small electricals’.

Car batteries also contain a number of different metals, such as cobalt, lithium and nickel. It’s essential that they are recycled responsibly and, in fact, it is illegal for car batteries to be disposed of with household waste – they should be taken to a specialist. Lead-acid batteries used in regular cars are widely recycled, however lithium-ion batteries used in electric cars are not, though car manufacturers are seeking ways to manage the process.

Many small household items can be detached and recycled, for example the metal rings on a ring binder (even better if the rest of the binder is made of card instead of plastic). Other items that are easily recyclable are tin cans and aluminium foil (including disposable trays).

Many smaller items will be collected with general recycling, but larger items can be taken to scrap metal yards who serve as collection points. Because so many can be recycled, it is easy for businesses to gather scrap metals together for collection. They will then get sorted, the parts separated into what can and cannot be recycled, and they are then ready for processing.

Because metals can be recycled many times without altering their properties, it could be said that scrap metal facilities are like sustainable, above-ground mines – rich in resources that can be reused over and over, at a fraction of the cost and with the added benefit of being good for the environment.