Almost all metals can be divided into two main categories: Ferrous and Non-Ferrous metals. The main difference between the two is that ferrous metals and alloys contain iron and non-ferrous materials do not. In terms of recycling and reusing these materials there are several other key differences to understand.
Ferrous Metals and Alloys
Steel, stainless steel, cast iron, and wrought iron are all ferrous metals. These materials are commonly used for their high tensile strength and durability to make automobiles, railroad rails, industrial containers, kitchen knives, tools and hardware, and as supports in buildings and bridges. Ferrous metals like steel make up the largest category of metals in the municipal solid waste and industrial waste streams.
- Steel cans and other recyclable materials are usually collected from curbside or drop-off recycling centers before being transported to a material recovery facility where it is crushed, baled, and shipped to steel mills or foundries to make new steel.
- In North America, the steel industry has been recycling steel for more than 150 years.
- 25 to 100 percent of all new steel products are made from recycled materials.
- An easy way to find out if your metal is ferrous or not is to use a magnet. Nearly all ferrous metals have magnetic properties due to their iron content.
Aluminum, brass, copper, nickel, tin, lead, zinc, gold, and silver are all non-ferrous metals. The real advantage to these metals is not found in their tensile strength but in their differences from ferrous metals such as their malleability, lighter weight, resistance to rust and corrosion, and their non-magnetic properties.
- Common items made from non-ferrous metals are aircraft, aluminum cans, gutters, roofing, water pipes, and road signs.
- Another perfect use for non-ferrous metals is in small electronics and electrical wiring.
- Aluminum is the third most recycled material in the world.
- Many non-ferrous scrap metals are more scarce than ferrous metals so they tend to demand higher prices in the scrap metal industry.
- Most curbside and drop-off recycling programs accept both ferrous and non-ferrous metals.
- Metallic plastic film, like the ones used as candy wrappers, can not be recycled but aerosol containers can be recycled once they are completely empty.
With so many everyday uses in our lives, the impacts of recycling all types of metals are almost too great to measure. From construction materials to automobiles to consumer electronics, recycling the metals in these items will have a huge positive impact on our environment.
(Sources: EPA & Alton Materials)