Scrap metal is big business. According to the U.S. Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the industry processes about 56 million tons of scrap iron and steel -- 1.5 million tons of scrap copper and 2.5 million tons of scrap aluminum -- alone on an annual basis. Making a living from selling and recycling scrap metal means learning which metals bring the most money, where to find them, and how to form relationships with local scrap yards that buy your material.
Buy a Magnet
Scrap metal falls into two general categories: Ferrous scrap contains iron or steel, which is recyclable, but less lucrative than the aluminum, brass, bronze, copper and stainless steel found in non-ferrous scrap, advises the June 24, 2014 Earth 911 article, The Basics of Recycling Scrap Metal for Money. Focus your collecting efforts by applying a magnet to a scrap metal piece's surface. If it doesn't stick, it's non-ferrous, and fetches a higher value at the scrap yard.
Establish Relationships With Scrap Yards
Research the local scrap market. Start online
Get a Large Truck
If you don't have already own one, Popular Mechanics suggests buying a sturdy open bed pickup, which makes it easier to haul large amounts of scrap materials around -- and eases the yard's collection process -- which is typically done with a crane. Otherwise, the disposal becomes your problem, and more difficult to accomplish with a standard vehicle.
Know Your Values
Learning which metals bring the most money will boost your scrap collecting efforts. One of the most highly prized metals is copper. As of August 2015, copper fetches $2 to $4 per pound, depending on its condition. Another lucrative material is brass, which is used in low-friction items like gears, locks and valves, and generally fetches $1 to $2 per pound. By contrast, more common materials -- such as steel, or aluminum, which you'll find in doors, gutters, siding, and windows -- is less lucrative, unless you have thousands of pounds of it.
Prepare to Remove Valuable Pieces
In some cases, you'll need to separate scrap materials from discarded machines to earn a bigger payout. For example, washing machines include electric motors with copper wiring, stainless steel drums and various aluminum parts that are worth a lot more to the scrap yard -- rather than leaving them in the machine, according to a summary posted by Rockaway Recycling. Similarly, you'll earn more money by taking apart dryers that contain insulated copper wiring and steel, instead of selling the machine as a whole unit.
Play by Your Community's Rules
Other potential sources for scrap metal include Craigslist ads, garage sales and sidewalk discards. However, if you go the scavenging route, always check with the property owner before removing any items from the curb. Also, make sure that your community doesn't have an ordinance against taking scrap metal out of dumpsters or garbage containers, which could land you in legal trouble, says the Scrap Metal Junkie website. For example, the New York Times reported in March 2015 that many urban areas like the city of Detroit have cracked down by forming police task forces to deter the scavenging or theft of sought-after materials like copper. The federal government has also begun requiring yards to take key identification details -- including fingerprints -- from sellers to deter metal theft. Whatever you sell, keep one thing in mind: you're legally responsible.pdf) for whatever the yard accepts.