Don’t be fooled by it’s name, but the scrap metal recycling business is a massive multi-billion dollar industry and a huge player in the global recycling industry.
According to a recent study released by the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), U.S. scrap recycling industry was responsible for more than 534,000 jobs with overall economic impact of nearly $117 billion.
That’s an impressive number and you can get a piece of that by starting your own scrap metal recycling business – part-time or full-time.
Indeed, export of scrap metal is booming, as richer economies like the United States and Canada produce tons of “trash” that can be recycled and exported to emerging economies that use them to sustain their rapid industrialization. Huge quantities of metal are needed by a wide range of industries all over the world. The U.S. exported over $28 billion of “scrap” metal to over 100 countries in 2016 alone.
You can tap into this often-times over-looked and under-appreciated sector by collecting and selling scrap metal to generate an income on your own terms.
All you need is some free time, a truck or trailer to haul the scrap metal you find, and some motivation. You can work whenever you want and make money by selling the scrap metal once you’ve collected enough.
Just in case you need a little inspiration to try out this money-making venture, read the story of Marsha Serlin, the founder and CEO of United Scrap Metal, Inc. A young and divorced single parent, Ms. Serlin started the United Scrap Metal with only $200 in cash and a rental truck. By 2009, Forbes magazine reported that United Scrap Metal was generating $215 million a year in business!
Today, the United Scrap Metal is one of the biggest scrap metal recycling companies in the North America.
Yep, all that from “scrap.”
Now, don’t be intimidated by the size of Ms. Serlin’s company today… you should rather focus on how she started. She was simply looking for a way to earn some money to support her struggling young family when she stumbled upon scrap collection business. And today, as they say, the rest is history.
You could start small, and with some grit, dedication and perhaps, a little dose of luck, build your own financial empire from other peoples’ “scrap.”
Which Metals Are Valuable?
Recognizing metals and assessing their value will become easier as you gain more experience.
Familiarize yourself with these metals and their value before you begin looking for scrap metal:
1. Ferrous metals. These are easy to recognize because a magnet will stick to them. Ferrous metals aren’t worth as much as non-ferrous metals, but it’s possible to make money if you have large quantities. Ferrous metals include:
- Steel, which can rust and produces long yellow sparks when a grinder is used on the metal.
- Iron and cast iron, which produces short orange sparks under a grinder.
2. Non-ferrous metals. These metals are usually worth a lot more money than ferrous metals. It is best to dispose of ferrous metals so that they can be properly recycled, but the bulk of your money will come from non-ferrous metals. These are the non-ferrous metals you’ll want to find:
- Copper, a brown or reddish metal. Copper is easy to identify by its reddish, brown, or green color if the metal is not in good condition.
- Aluminum, a white or silver metal that bends very easily.
- Brass, a very heavy metal with a yellow color and a slight red tint in some areas. Brass is an alloy made with copper and zinc.
Where Can You Find Scrap Metal?
The best method to find scrap metals varies in view of where you live. It might take you a while to figure out how to consistently make good finds.
Try these tips to get started with finding scrap metal:
1. There is plenty of metal to scrap around the average home. Go through your belongings to get rid of things you no longer need and offer to do the same for friends and relatives.
This is what to look for in and outside of your home:
- Plumbing pipes, door handles, and light and bathroom fixtures are often made with brass or other metals.
- Most household appliances, electronics, HVAC units, and replacement parts can be scrapped.
- Siding, roofing, gutters, and other items that can be found on the outside of your home are made from aluminum.
2. Offer to help local businesses get rid of bulky items they no longer need and don’t know how to recycle:
- Steel companies and factories might have scrap metal that needs to be hauled or some equipment and machines they no longer use.
- If you live in a rural area, contact local farms. Farmers might need help with getting rid of unwanted tools, equipment, or vehicles.
- Construction companies often end up with unused materials. Some local construction companies might need help with getting rid of these materials.
- Local thrift stores may have very inexpensive appliances or electronics you could scrap.
- Charities often receive donations such as household appliances and electronics. Most charities don’t have any use for these items and might need your help with hauling bulky appliances.
3. Networking is another good way to find scrap metal. Everyone has junk they no longer need in their house, basement, or garage, and offering to haul it off is a valuable service.
- Advertise your haul off service online. Use Craigslist, social media, local newspapers, and other classified sites to list your services.
- Check the free section on Craigslist. You will probably come across people wanting to give away appliances and other items you could scrap because they no longer have any use or room for these items.
- Go around your neighborhood. Introduce yourself to your neighbors and let them know you can help them get rid of unwanted junk.
- Dumpster diving can be a good way to find items to scrap. Dumpster diving is legal but some cities and townships have local ordinances against this practice. Check with your local government before you decide to go dumpster diving.
- Hand out business cards. Local businesses and residents will call you again the next time they need help with getting rid of an old appliance.
Make Money With Insulated Copper Wires
Copper is one of the most valuable metals you can scrap and it is used to make cables in most appliances and electronics. It is definitely worth it to take the time to strip cables so you can sell the copper.
Look for these items to start collecting insulated copper wires:
1. Desktop computer towers, laptops, TVs, monitors, radios, DVD players, and VCRs.
2. Appliances such as refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, washers, and dryers.
3. Smaller appliances like toasters, blenders, coffee makers, and fans.
4. Any small electronics that need to be charged, such as MP3 players, cameras, phones, or Gameboys. Stripping cables is easy.
Cut the wires or cables from the electronics or appliances and leave them in the sun. Heat will make the cables easier to strip, but it is unsafe to expose insulated copper wires to a direct source of heat. You can strip wires and cables by cutting around the copper with a razor or by using a tabletop wire stripper.
How to Sell Scrap Metal
Once you’ve figured out how to find and transport scrap metal, look into storing your findings. Some metals are valuable enough to attract the attention of burglars, which is why scrap metal should be stored in a safe place that can be locked. It’s also best to protect scrap metal from humidity to prevent rust.
Scrap yards and recycling centers are the best places to sell scrap metal.
Most places will pay you by the pound and might even purchase appliances and electronics you did not strip since these items can sometimes be fixed and recycled.
Getting paid by the pound means it is more interesting to focus on the more valuable metals, including copper, brass, and aluminum.
The prices offered for scrap metal can vary from one area to another and it might be worthwhile for you to drive a little further to sell what you collected.
Do your best to build a good relationship with the owners or local junk yards, scrap yards, and recycling centers. Find out what kind of items and metals are the most valuable to them.
Collecting scrap metal to sell it to local junk yards is a good way to generate an additional income in your free time. However, it’s important to stay safe.
Use these techniques:
1. Always wear gloves when handling metal. Edges can be sharp and rusty. Wear gloves when stripping cables and wires too.
2. Avoid looking for scrap metal on private property, abandoned houses, or abandoned factories.
3. It could be illegal to pick up trash from the curb. If you see something valuable, ask permission first.
4. Don’t throw away scrap metal that is worthless to you. Take it to a recycling center or a junk yard to ensure it is properly disposed of or recycled.
5. Ask for a receipt or for written permission when collecting scrap metal. The scrap yard owner might ask about the origin of the items you bring. This is especially important if you are hauling construction materials or equipment that came from a factory, since there have been many cases of thieves stealing this type of items to scrap them.
6. Be honest with the people who want to get rid of unwanted junk. Charge them if you won’t be able to scrap the items, but let them know you can make a profit off scrap metal. Think about offering a small compensation if you feel that offering to haul off an item for free isn’t enough.
Hauling and selling scrap metal can be physically demanding, but this activity is an ideal way to generate an additional income if you have a truck or a trailer and aren’t afraid of hard work.
It’s important to learn to recognize the metals that are worth hauling and to identify the objects you’ll be able to sell.
Recognizing valuable metals, appliances, and other objects will become much easier as you gain experience.
Besides making money, you’ll be helping local residents and businesses get rid of unwanted junk. Furthermore, scrap metal recycling is a great way to help preserve the environment.
It certainly is true that one man’s (or woman’s) junk, can be another man’s (or woman’s) treasure.