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Iron

What is iron?

Iron is a ferrous metal – in fact, it is the granddaddy of all ferrous metals. It is a base metal, meaning it is extracted directly from ore and has no other metals blended into it. It can be used as an ingredient in metal alloys — most commonly, steel. The most well-known features of iron include its natural magnetism and the signature orange rust of iron that’s been exposed to the elements. 

Iron is the second most commonly occurring metal in the Earth’s crust. China, Australia, and Brazil are among the leading sources of iron ore. Around the world, 3.3 billion tonnes of iron ore were produced in 2018. 

How is iron made?

Iron is crafted in enormous blast furnaces, known for their iconic smokestacks. Iron ore – most commonly, hematite and magnetite – goes through a process known as sintering to create pieces that are 10-25mm in size. These pieces enter the furnace along with coal (known as “coke” in this context), which provides the heat, and limestone, which makes any impurities in the ore rise to the top to form a layer called slag. Temperatures in the blast furnace top 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit. 

There are two basic types of iron: cast iron and wrought iron. Cast iron has been poured into molds and allowed to harden, and it has a higher carbon content, making it hard and brittle. Wrought iron, by contrast, has a very low carbon content, making it more malleable. Wrought iron is reheated and worked with tools to create shapes, while cast iron comes out of the mold already shaped. 

What is iron used in?

The vast majority of iron – 98% – is used for the production of steel. Iron is also used in construction and building materials, such as I-beams, girders, reinforced concrete, and pipes. It is less expensive than steel, but not as strong or durable. Both wrought and cast iron are commonly used for decoration, and cast iron cookware is a favorite among some chefs. 

It’s also used by your body! Dietary iron is an essential nutrient for all living things and occurs in foods such as meat, seafood, lentils and beans, tofu, and potatoes. 

Humans were using iron as early as 1200 BCE.

In fact, there’s a whole era of human history named for and defined by this metal. The Iron Age describes a period in which iron, and later steel, was the dominant material for tools and weapons. The beginning of the Iron Age varies by region, starting in the Mediterranean region and Mesopotamia around 1200 BCE. Prior to iron, bronze (a copper alloy) was the dominant metal, and remained more popular for many applications until the advent of steel. 

Is scrap iron valuable?

Iron has value as scrap; however, most people will find it difficult to collect enough iron to be worth much of a payout. Scrap iron is measured by the ton, not by the pound, and is not commonly found outside of construction and demolition sites. 

Recycling iron conserves energy and saves landfill space.

It takes less energy to create iron and steel from recycled iron than from iron ore. Using recycled metals also helps mitigate some of the negative effects of the mining process, which is energy- and water-intensive and does lasting damage to the areas surrounding mines. The less ore we need to mine, the fewer mines we need and the less damage we do through mining. 

Iron is infinitely recyclable.

Virtually all metal, including iron, can be recycled over and over again without losing the properties that make it valuable and useful. The only other material that can claim infinite recyclability is glass. Other materials, such as plastic, paper, and cardboard, eventually degrade and become useless. 

Cohen accepts all types of iron for recycling.

Call your local Cohen Recycling Center for current pricing. 

More resources:

Locations, Phone Numbers and Hours

First Timer Visitor’s Guide

What Can I Recycle?