At a time when it seems like everyone has a side hustle, people are getting more creative. Rather than relying on multiple jobs or longer hours, more people are looking toward alternative ways to bring in extra income. With inflation on the rise, many people are making money from scrap metal. And, it’s easier than you might think.
What Is Scrap Metal?
When you drive past a landfill, most of us see a heaping pile of junk. But, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure, especially when it comes to scrap metal. Many of those items that have been tossed aside have metal components that you can sell for scrap. Rather than letting them rust and take up space at the landfill, you can recycle them to make new products.
Metal is more durable than other materials. Therefore, it can be melted and reused several times without sacrificing the integrity of the material. Environmentalists like this because it reduces waste and conserves space in landfills. Manufacturers like this because it saves energy and requires less to recycle metal than to create something new from raw materials.
How Much Money Can You Make from Scrap Metal?
Scrap metal is bought and sold by weight. Each type and thickness of metal sells for different prices. You will make more money from scrap metal if you take the time to separate the materials. Otherwise, they pay out based on the lowest-priced metal. If you separate them out, you will get higher prices for rarer metals.
Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals
The first thing you should know about scrap metal is the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Ferrous, or magnetic materials, are more common and less valuable. These are commonly used in furniture, appliances, tires, transportation parts, building materials, and packaging materials. An easy way to identify and separate them is to use a magnet.
Non-ferrous metals are more valuable since recycling them doesn’t change their chemical properties. Essentially, they have an endless lifespan. These metals include copper, aluminum, lead, tin, zinc, alloys, and precious metals. While they only account for about 10% of all scrap metal, it makes up over 50% of revenue in the industry. However, both are worth your time if your goal is making money from scrap metal.
Precious metals like gold and silver yield the highest prices. Current prices put gold at $1,844.75 an ounce while silver brings $21.71 an ounce. Although many people sell precious metals to local jewelers, you may be able to get a better price at your local scrap yard. In addition to jewelry, they will also accept medals, silverware, vases, outdated electronics, and antique items.
Copper is also among the most valuable scrap metals. It usually sells for $3-$4 a pound. But, that depends on whether you’re selling solid pieces, flashing, or wiring. The most common place to find it is in plumbing components and electrical wiring. Many electronics and computers have copper wiring as well. However, some larger household appliances (washers, dryers, AC units) have copper coils. And, it is sometimes used as roofing accents on homes.
Brass is slightly less valuable than copper, averaging around $1.80 a pound. It is commonly used in HVAC units, furniture, light fixtures, doorknobs, and other household items. You may also come across brass in other items such as jewelry, musical instruments, and shell casings.
Many of us collected aluminum cans as a kid. Besides elementary schools, other people are making money from aluminum scrap metal as well. It is used more frequently than you might imagine, and it sells for around $0.50 a pound. Scrappers will come across aluminum in car engines, kitchen appliances, windows, railings, fences, and cookware. And, these items will bring more money and tonnage than cans.
Steel is a primary construction material, but it’s not as valuable as other metals. The prices at the scrap yard vary based on the type and quality of steel, but usually, they fall between $0.25 and $0.50 a pound. You can find it in large household appliances, pipes, beams, car bodies and parts, farm implements, TVs, and computer towers, just to name a few sources. And if you aren’t sure if it’s steel, you can identify it with a magnet to separate it from other metals.
Where Can You Sell Scrap Metal?
Scrap and Salvage Yards
The best place to start making money from scrap metal is by taking a trip to the local salvage yard. If there are several in your area, you can compare prices before you haul a load. Be aware that prices change daily, so rates aren’t guaranteed other than at the time of sale. And, don’t forget to separate your ferrous and non-ferrous materials to ensure you aren’t selling other metals for less than they’re worth.
If you don’t have the time or equipment to transport scrap metal, there are plenty of people who are willing to take care of it for you. You can search local marketplaces like Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for people who collect scrap. Or, you can ask around for a referral. Although they may pay you for larger items, people usually haul away smaller things for free and earn their money from selling it.
The truth is that most repair shops won’t waste their time on broken machinery. Therefore, they won’t buy your scrap. However, if you have a piece of equipment that can be repaired, it may be worth saving. If you know what’s wrong with it and how to fix it, you may be able to repair it yourself and sell it for a profit. You can typically find the parts you need online, but it may be worth a trip to the repair shop for some professional advice and guidance.
What Else Do You Need to Know?
First and foremost, you have to manage your expectations. It is unlikely that you will make a full-time career by selling scrap metal. However, it is a good way to supplement your income.
The amount you earn depends on several factors such as where you get your metal, what kind it is, and how much you can transport in a day. And don’t forget that scrap prices change daily, and sometimes have large fluctuations. You can increase your earnings by watching the markets and timing your sales when prices are high.
You can also earn more if you know which materials are more valuable. Then, you can focus on finding new sources for metals like copper and brass. If you can find free inventory, you’ll increase your profits even more.
You’ll also want to be aware of the local laws. Regulations vary by state, and some municipalities require a business license to sell scrap. Other states will also require photo ID and fingerprinting when you sell at their scrap yards.
Once you know the laws and have the appropriate safety gear, it’s time to start scrapping and making extra cash.
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Jenny Smedra is an avid world traveler, ESL teacher, former archaeologist, and freelance writer. Choosing a life abroad had strengthened her commitment to finding ways to bring people together across language and cultural barriers. While most of her time is dedicated to working with children, she also enjoys good friends, good food, and new adventures.