You probably have a general idea of how the recycling process works: recycled items eventually get turned into new products. But how exactly are old things made new again? And when you drop off items at a recycling center, where do they go from there?

In this post, we’ll take you through the metal recycling process and explain what happens to your stuff when you recycle with Cohen. Other materials like plastic and glass follow similar processes, this is just the one we know best.

How Metal Gets Recycled, Step by Step

Collection

The simplest steps in the entire process involves collecting the recyclable metal. First you collect it at home or your place of work. Then you drop it off at a Cohen Recycling Center convenient to you. Nearly all of our local recycling centers are open to the public and accept both residential and commercial material.

Examples of recyclable metal include aluminum, copper, steel, and iron. See our Recycling Guide for a more thorough list of items Cohen accepts for recycling.

Separation

Once items have been collected, the next step is to sort. Items are first sorted and separated by their material and metal type. The use of magnets or sensors can help determine different types of metals. Our experienced employees also observe the color, weight and size of the materials to judge what type and grade of metal you’ve brought.

It’s perfectly alright if you don’t know what kind of metal you have. While it can help to pre-sort your materials, it’s not required. However, customers can sometimes improve the value of their items if they sort and separate “clean” metal (items with no non-metal material attached, like plastic or rubber) from “unclean.” For example, a screen door with a plastic handle and rubber seals still attached would be considered “unclean.”

Preparation

Once sorted, items are broken down into smaller pieces through a number of different processes, including shredding and shearing. They are then assembled into a form, such as a bale, that can be packaged and shipped. These forms must meet specific requirements including size, shape, chemical composition and density. The requirements make these materials usable for melting and purification.

These first three steps all happen at Cohen! After that, it’s on to…

Melting & Purification

The prepared metal is sold to facilities such as smelters, foundries and mills (depending on the kind of metal). Those facilities will melt down the material in large furnaces to remove impurities and ensure high quality. This is why it’s so important to get the preparation right: mistakes can ruin the entire melt and produce unusable metal.

Even though energy is required during this stage, less energy is required to process existing metals being recycled than manufacturing products using virgin (raw) materials.

Solidifying

After the metal has been melted and purified, it is moved by conveyor belts to be cooled, hardened and solidified. Different shapes and sizes are created and designed for the metal. In the cooling stage, metal can be made into new forms, such as ingots, coils, and wire.

All metal is made to order; the mill already knows which manufacturing stream its material is going into and prepares it according to the desired specifications.

Transportation

Once the solidified metal has been made to order, it can be packaged and transported to a manufacturer. Manufacturers purchase the newly recycled metal and create new products such as automotive parts and construction materials like rebar and I-beams, or steel coil, which can be used to make even more products!

Benefits of Recycling Metal

Recycling metal allows for the preservation of natural resources by reducing the need to mine new metal ore – a process that is very environmentally damaging. And did you know? Nearly all metals can be recycled over and over again without affecting their useful properties.

So, when new products are made of recycled metals and they too are at the end of their useful lives, the metal recycling process will start again. As always, we’ll be ready for it.