I used to be fascinated by the scrap metal trucks driving around town and often wondered how the world of scrap metal worked. How much money are they making each day? How much is the metal actually worth? What do they do with it? Then one day a few years ago I decided to find out for myself.
Scrap metal yards purchase metal based on weight. You drive into the scrap yard and stop your vehicle (and trailer sometimes) on a large scale where they record your weight. You then drive over to the discharge pile and either unload your metal by hand, or a giant excavator with a powered magnate can pick it up for you. I often will just unload it by hand as one slight error by the excavator operator can severely damage your truck or trailer.
After unloading the metal, you drive back out to another scale where you are weighed again, and either are cut a check or given a little atm card that’s redeemable for cash at the scrap yard atm. Depending on the time and day of the week, it can take anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes to get in and out of the scrap yard.
What kind of metals are there?
Ferrous metals simply contain iron, or alloys of iron such as stainless steel. This makes up the majority of scrap metal that is turned in.
The primary non-ferrous metals include aluminium, copper, lead, nickel, tin, titanium and zinc, and alloys such as brass. non-ferrous metals are worth a lot more per pound than ferrous metals, and are often worth separating.
This page over at ScrapMetalJunkie.com is a great resource for identifying the different types of metal.
How much is scrap metal actually worth?
Currently the closest scrap yard to me pays $195 per ton, or per 2,000 pounds for ferrous metals. This breaks down to approximately $10 per 100 pounds of metal. The price that scrap yards pay fluctuates with worldwide supply and demand and can change daily.
- Ferrous metal (most common)- $195/ton or approximate 10 cents per pound or $10 per 100 pounds
- #1 Bare Copper – $2.85/lb
For copper with the shield still on (like a power cord) they will pay you a % of the $2.85/pound, or approximately 60% of the weight. Most power cords have bare copper inside, as well as copper pipes that are used in plumbing.
- Aluminum – .50 cents/lb
You will often find aluminum in old windows and patio furniture. You have to break out the glass before you can turn in the aluminum.
How much are your appliances and other metal items actually worth?
Washing machine $18-$22 average weight 200 lbs.
Dryer $8-$10 average weight 100 lbs.
Refrigerator with top freezer $16-18 average weight with the compressor taken out 175 lbs.
Side by side refrigerator $24-$28 average weight with the compressor removed 250 lbs.
Ovens and ranges $11-$18 average weight 125 lbs.
Full size Gas BBQ $16-20 average weight 180 lbs.
Cast iron bathtub $30-$40 average weight over 300 lbs.
All of these examples are for newer appliances. Many older appliances were made with thicker gauge steel and can weigh significantly more. For refrigerators and freezers, the compressor and freon must be removed by a licensed professional before they can be scrapped. It is much simpler, and often more profitable to look up your local utility company and ask them if they have an old refrigerator/freezer purchasing program. Many states have programs that pay as much as $40-$50 for them and they will pick the refrigerator or freezer up from your home.
Yes. It’s not uncommon for scrap collector to make $100-$200 cash per day. If you can get 1,000 lbs of metal in a day you’ve made $100 cash. It can be hard work, but it can also be very rewarding. A few years ago I picked up two die cast molds from a company that just wanted to get rid of them. They were extraordinarily, heavy, weighing almost 1,500 lbs between the two of them. I walked away from the scrap yard with a check for $179.80 for those two cubes. Forty five minutes earlier I was being smirked at by the guys who were giving me the metal, as if I was a little crazy for taking such useless items off their hands.
What are the best methods for making a living collecting scrap metal?
1. Use a utility trailer with a ramp. Scrap metal can be messy and will rough up the back of a truck pretty quickly. Plus, it can be pretty difficult loading really heavy items into a truck.
2. Get metal from the craigslist free section. There is a lot of scrap metal given away on the free section every day. You must be quick to respond though.
3. Establish a recurring network of metal sources. Go to one apartment complex each day and meet the maintenance person. Give them a business card and tell them to call or email you whenever they have metal to get rid of. Be polite and show up looking professional. Shave. If you are pleasant to deal with and show up on time you can establish a lot of sources for scrap metal.
4. Don’t scrap everything. I got into buying and selling appliances because I realized some appliances aren’t worth scrapping. Some washers and dryers can be worth 10 times more if you spend a few dollars and repair them, and a little bit of time cleaning them up. At least set them aside and sell them to someone that repairs appliances. Metal shelves are often worth reselling, as well as lawnmowers and other power equipment.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I get paid for the metal?
The scrap yard will issue you a check or an atm card to get cash immediately for all your ferrous metals. For all non-ferrous metals, I believe most states issue you a check after two business days. This came about as an attempt to curb widespread theft of expensive metals across the country.
Do I need to take the plastic or rubber pieces off my appliances before I scrap them?
No. Scrap yards set their prices knowing that a certain percentage of what is brought in will be other materials. However, large pieces of wood, concrete or other heavy non metallic materials will not be accepted.
Is there a minimum or maximum amount of metal I can bring it?
No, the scrap yards will buy any amount.
What about lawnmowers and other equipment with gas tanks?
They have to have the gas emptied out. Oil tanks need to be cleaned prior to scrapping often times need to have holes drilled in them.
Though we don’t collect scrap metal for a living, we do go to the scrap yard with a large load of old appliances a few times per week. The money we make from the metal pretty much pays for all our gas that we use. Let me know if you have any questions or there are any points or tips that I’ve left out. Hope you all are doing well and have a good weekend!