Nonferrous metals, including aluminum, copper, lead, nickel, tin, zinc and others, are among the few materials that do not degrade or lose their chemical or physical properties in the recycling process. As a result, nonferrous metals have the capacity to be recycled an infinite number of times. As society’s awareness of the economic, environmental and energy savings associated with using recycling materials improves, along with the rapid growth in consumer demand for nonferrous metal-bearing products, the critical role of the reservoir of nonferrous metals in use becomes increasingly apparent. In the United States alone, the value of the nonferrous metal scrap industry, including precious and rare metal scrap, approached $50 billion in 2012.
While in terms of volume, nonferrous scrap makes up a relatively small percentage of the total quantity of material recycled in the United States, by value nonferrous metal scrap — including precious metal scrap — accounts for more than half of total U.S. scrap recycling industry earnings. More than 9.5 million metric tons of nonferrous scrap was processed in the United States last year from a wide array of consumer, commercial and industrial sources: everything from copper and precious metal circuitry in electronic devices, to soft-drink containers, automobile batteries and radiators, aluminum siding, airplane parts and more. Nonferrous scrap is then consumed by secondary smelters, refiners, ingot makers, fabricators, foundries and other industrial consumers in the United States and in more than 90 countries worldwide. These consumers rely on nonferrous scrap as a competitive, environmentally preferable and energy efficient input to manufacture brand new products, continuing the nonferrous metals lifecycle.