What is Non-ferrous Metal?

Aluminum cans waiting for processing at an East TN scrap yard near Knoxville TN.

What is Non-ferrous Metal?

In our last article we discussed ferrous scrap metal, its properties, and how to recycle it. Which leads us to wonder—what is non-ferrous scrap metal? Whereas ferrous metals like steel are magnetic, contain iron, and are valued for their strength, non-ferrous metals have different qualities and uses. Here we will explore the history of non-ferrous metals, their common uses, and how they can be recycled.

Out of The Stone Age

Around 9000 BC, early man discovered a naturally occurring metal that would change the way humans lived and evolved. Copper, the first known non-ferrous metal, would only be the first of a number of native metals in a relatively pure form that man would utilize over the next 2,000 years. Entering the Bronze Age in 5000 BC, copper was already being used for primitive tools. However, the discovery of bronze (an alloy of copper and tin) would make it the most desired material for tools, weapons, and armor, as it could be forged, hammered out, and formed into a specific shape for more sophisticated uses. Gold and silver, both also naturally occurring, were soft and malleable to early man, making them ideal for jewelry and trade. The discovery of lead, and its soft form, made an ideal metal for transporting and storing liquid. Lead would eventually take a leading role in the construction of the earliest water systems being used to manufacture pipes in ancient Rome. Other non-ferrous metals, such as brass, aluminum, zinc, and nickel, would become popular over the coming centuries. Discovering the technology of smelting and how to make iron would bring humans into the Iron Age as early as 1200 BC, and into the world of ferrous metals.

Modern Uses of Non-Ferrous Metals

Non-ferrous metals may have stepped out of the spotlight after the Iron Age, but they were not made obsolete. These types of metals have certain characteristics that make them ideal for applications where steel or iron would fail. Because they are softer and lighter than ferrous metals, we still see them used in many modern ways. Here are non-ferrous metals still in use today, their characteristics, and where you may see them being used:

  • Aluminum – Lightweight, durable, and easily shaped. Commonly used in cans, in electrical applications, construction, and transportation material for cars and aircraft.
  • Copper – Corrosion resistant, malleable, anti-bacterial, non-magnetic, and best conductor of electricity and heat. Commonly used in electrical applications, including computers and other electronic devices, wiring, cookware, architecture, thermal components in appliances, watches, outdoor applications, coins, and musical instruments.
  • Lead – Low melting point, heavy, and malleable. Commonly used in industrial applications, such as car batteries, paint pigment, ammunition, weights, radiation protection, and soldering. This non-ferrous metal is in the process of being phased out due to health and safety concerns.
  • Tin – Soft, low tensile strength, inexpensive, and easily recyclable. Tin is often mixed with other metals to create a shiny finish and to protect them from corrosion. A non-toxic metal, tin is often found in food packaging (cans) and is mainly used to coat other metal surfaces.
  • Zinc – Low melting point, strong, and one of the most widely used metals. Zinc is often used as a non-corrosive coating for other metals, but is also used in many commercial applications, such as galvanizing steel, batteries, paint and rubber manufacturing, weapons, nuclear reactors, and agricultural fungicides. Zinc is also naturally occurring in the human body and is ingested as a supplement.

Non-ferrous metals are still used in everyday life, but it can be confusing on how to dispose of them. In a world of increasing demands for sustainability, it’s important to recycle what we can and lessen the demand for new mining while lessening waste.

Recycling Non-Ferrous Metal

Because non-ferrous metals are often used in industrial or electrical components, they have to be carefully sorted and categorized. Not all recycling centers are set up for this type of recycling, so it’s a good idea to check to see where you can take them nearby. The easiest non-ferrous metals to recycle are tin and aluminum. Most recycling centers are able to take these kinds of metals, which are collected, sorted, compressed at very high pressure, and baled into uniform cubes to be re-melted for reuse. While they aren’t the most valuable metals, the true value comes in being able to easily recycle them in an economically viable manner. Recycling aluminum actually uses 95% less energy than it takes to produce it from its raw form. A used aluminum can is able to be recycled and back on the shelf as a new can in as little as 60 days!

For higher value metals, such as copper, premium grade scrap can retain its value nearly that of newly mined ore! The energy needed to recycle copper is a tenth of the energy needed to mine it, making recycling the most ecological (and cost-effective) choice. Some materials are harder to recycle, such as lead and zinc, found often in batteries, cars, and appliances, but specialized recycling facilities will take these items from commercial facilities. Car batteries have as much of a 95% recycling rate but must be handled with care. A facility certified in this type of recycling can extract the metals, melt them down into ingots, and resend them to battery manufacturers to be re-melted and re-used.

Roane Metals: East Tennessee’s Leading Scrap Metal Recycling

Do you have a pile of scrap metal sitting around taking up space? Old appliances that don’t work and you don’t know what to do with them? A junk car that won’t run killing the grass in your yard? Aluminum cans waiting to be turned into cash? As the leading metal salvage company in East Tennessee, Roane Metals can help solve those problems for you! Taking both ferrous and non-ferrous scrap metal, Roane Metals will give you top dollar for your items, helping you turn your junk into cash. With the price of scrap metal changing with the fluctuation of supply and demand, we are happy to take your phone call with any pricing or recycling questions you may have. You won’t only be helping your own pocketbook when you choose to recycle your metal scrap with Roane Metals, you’ll also be helping the environment and your community by supporting the local economy. Bring your scrap to 284 Cardiff Valley Road in Rockwood, TN, or give us a call at 865-354-4282 today! Come scrap with us!