Scrap Metal Isn’t Junk

December 8, 2010 07:17 AM
Scrap Metal Isn’t Junk

Alittle foresight can increase the value of the scrap metal pile behind your shop the next time you clean it up and haul it to a scrap metal yard.

“It’s all about time and labor,” says Paul White, safety, health and environmental regional coordinator for Alter Metal Recycling in Des Moines, Iowa. “We pay less for metal we have to sort and cut.”

Junk farm equipment is a good example. Haul an old hay rake, cultivator or plow to Alter and they’ll pay around $80 per ton for the “unprepared metal.” Disassemble or cut the equipment into pieces no more than 3'x18" and Alter pays $120 per ton.

“We pay the highest price for metals we can load directly onto railcars or trucks for shipment to our buyers,” White says. “It would be an advantage for farmers if they had separate metal piles on their farms: Small stuff, such as cultivator sweeps, disk blades and chopper knives, less than 3'x18", in one pile. Long stuff that they cut to size before they bring it to us in another pile. Cast iron in a third pile, and non-ferrous metals in their own pile.”

“If farmers sort and prepare the metal, it’s to their advantage, especially if they keep aluminum and copper separate,” says Jim Siegel, account manager at Cash’s Scrap Metal & Iron in St. Louis. “We have non-ferrous docks at our locations and can pay a better price for aluminum, copper and iron that we know is clean.”

Clean versus dirty. Clean metals means aluminum intercoolers without rubber hoses or seals and steel hydraulic cylinders drained of oil and without any rubber-clad hoses attached. Engine blocks must have oil pans, oil filters and all hoses and wiring removed. Brake shoes and brake pads with
linings are considered dirty, as is any scrap metal with plastic, rubber or glass attached.

“Wheels and rims with tires on them can reduce the price of a load,” White says. “We’ll accept a few small rubber tires [such as planter press wheels] in a load, but a big rear tractor wheel with the tire on it will likely get rejected.”

Scrap sheet metal and used fencing wire are low-value scrap metal.

“Unless you can get sheet metal really flattened and compressed, it doesn’t weigh very much,” White says. “We’ve had guys drive their tractors back and forth over sheet metal to flatten it out, then put it on the bottom of their load so the rest of the metal keeps it flat and compressed.”

Rolls of old woven or barbed wire fencing should ideally be flattened and “metered” into loads of scrap metal.

“If we feed too much old fencing at one time into our shredder, it clogs it up,” White says. “One or two rolls of old wire in a load isn’t a problem, but a lot of fencing lowers the price of a load of scrap.”

Red flags. Metallic containers contaminated by chemicals or fuels are environmental and safety hazards. “We won’t accept fuel barrels, oil barrels, propane tanks or pesticide containers,” White explains. “Beyond the hassle of dealing with hazardous wastes, there’s a safety issue for our
employees if something could be explosive or caustic residue goes through the shredder.”

Alter has an Inbound Materials Source Control Program site at that identifies acceptable and nonacceptable materials.

Siegel says customers can go to for a list of what his company’s scrap yards will and won’t accept.

“It’s best to keep questionable materials separate,” Siegel says. “If we find somebody trying to smuggle a contaminated barrel or something at the bottom of a load of scrap, we can reject the entire load.”

Hire it out. Farmers who don’t want to mess with sorting and sizing metal, but who want their scrap iron pile eliminated, can contact a local “scrapper” to do the work for them.

“Scrappers will come in and clean up a metal pile,” White says. “Scrappers do the sorting and cutting and loading on your farm for a quoted price, but that price will naturally be less than if you do the sorting, loading and hauling yourself.”

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