Similar to plastics products, metal products which have reached the end of their need can also be recycled, which is beneficial for both environmental and economic reasons. Metal waste is a huge percentage of the total waste per annum, and much of it can be recycled. We discuss the benefits and reasons to recycle metal.
Uses of metals
Metal itself (in its wide variation) is a valuable, versatile and durable material with a huge range of important uses. It is commonly utilised within the construction industry, but also for the creation of tools, such as domestic kitchen utensils. Because of the essential need and popularity for the use of metals in almost every aspect of our daily life, the benefits of metal recycling become apparent.
Which metals can be recycled?
Almost all metals can be recycled, and after collection and processing, the properties of the underlying material can be fully repurposed. The UK currently recycles much more metal than it can use domestically, and consequently, it is the fifth largest exporter of recycled metal globally. Of the variety of metals some – such as gold, silver, copper and lead – are obviously valuable, and consequently, there is rarely any difficulty in encouraging the recycling of these metal types. Copper is an exceptional example, with almost 80% of all the copper that has ever been mined still in use, much of it recycled.
With additional valuable metals, such as aluminium, steel, brass, zinc and tin, making up the bulk of consumer waste, these might otherwise give rise to problems in waste management, but governments and councils have found it appropriate to encourage the habit of recycling through regular collections of waste products.
Enormous benefits for the environment
There are distinct benefits of recycling metals and not just the obvious economic reasons which accrue from the value of reclaiming the raw material. The environmental benefits are astounding, as the need to search the earth to replenish diminishing materials is substituted with the use of using materials which we have already obtained. It makes perfect sense in all cases not to let valuable materials rot in landfill sites, but to instead re-use and conserve the raw materials.
Recycling metal reduces the overall harmful greenhouse emissions, with less energy being required to produce metals via recycling than through extracting the raw ore. The saving of energy can be considerable; in the production of lead, for example, recycling saves 60% of the energy otherwise used in lead extraction, and, since lead is one of the most recycled metals, the savings here are highly worthwhile.
How is metal recycled?
The process of metal recycling begins with several types of groups. There are different methods for individual product groups which might have more specialised requirements. We are all familiar with the regular bin collections which we are required to use for our recyclable household waste. Certain goods such as refrigerators and other goods must go through a more rigorous process, with certain harmful elements contained in them removed before they can be sent on. Other collections are taken in at scrap lots, skips and recycle centres. The various metal products are then sorted in different approaches for type and quality. Generally, the waste is then compacted for transportation.
Processing takes the form of melting the various waste metals down and removing the impurities by such methods as electrolysis or the use of magnetic arrays; there are different methods employed for different varieties of waste. The metals are then solidified and extruded or otherwise shaped into sheets or blocks before being further treated with chemicals to alter its density or other properties before being sent on and transported as required to where such raw materials are needed.