The amount of aluminum and steel cans that Americans use every day could fill the country's need for airplanes every three months. Although all metals are recyclable, most scrap metal does not get recycled. Governments and environmentalists are promoting the recycling of metals, which has a multitude of economic and environmental benefits, but recycling metals does have a few downsides.
Non-iron based metals such as aluminum and steel cans have some of the highest recycling rates. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency statistics show that 48.2 percent of aluminum cans are recycled, along with 62.8 percent of steel cans. Of the 250 million tons of waste that enters the municipal stream, metals account for 21 million tons, or 8.4 percent.
Some metals, especially aluminum, are so profitable to recycle that companies pay people and businesses for their used metal, according to Waste Care Corporation. Recycled aluminum cans alone generate $800 million each year, which often goes to charitable organizations. Metals are usually completely recyclable, which reduces the environmental impact of mining for metal, reports GreenStudentU.
Aluminum, steel and other metals need to be manually separated from other recyclable material such as plastic and paper, according to Waste Care. Metals, especially aluminum, tend to degrade after each reuse cycle, so products using recycled metals can vary in quality, but most metals never reach a point where they are no longer recyclable. Recycling metals still uses energy, albeit about 95 percent less than new production.
A few preventative steps can maximize metal recycling advantages while reducing the disadvantages. Clean out any steel or aluminum cans before taking them to a recycling center; recycling plants will often pay more for metal free of any debris. Some recycling centers may ask that the metals be separated. If a magnet does not stick to a metallic product, it is probably aluminum.
Some states and local governments now have laws that mandate the recycling of metals and other materials, according to Waste Care. Florida's Lee County requires the recycling of metals and other scraps in the hopes of making future recycling cheaper. Check any state and local laws before throwing out useful material like steel and aluminum, or face the possibility of stiff fines.