Can you recycle rusted metal?

Whilst recycling is crucial and always important for businesses who throw away a lot of waste, some materials can be turned away depending on the condition they are in. Wet paper and broken glass are just a few examples of common items that are often declined by recyclers. But, what about rusted metal?

If you have a large amount of scrap metal that you haven’t been able to dispose of quickly, the chances are it could have rusted. Being exposed to the elements, metal is easily subject to rust, especially iron and steel. Not only can this cause cosmetic damage to the metal, but it can also reduce its quality and practical use over time.

So, if you have metal on your hands that is rusted and therefore past its prime, you’re going to want to dispose of it. Naturally, the best way to do so would be through recycling, but this begs the question – can you recycle rusted metal?

What causes metal to rust?

But before we answer the question at hand, let’s get technical.

The technicalities

Rust occurs when certain corrosive metals (such as iron and steel) are exposed to water and oxygen, creating a combustion reaction (which is actually a lot less exciting than it sounds). Other metals are less likely to rust. Aluminium, for example, is protected by a layer of aluminium oxide – safeguarding it from those harmful elements.

Rust is commonly recognised as a reddish-brown colour that sits on the surface of metals and is rough to the touch. Sometimes, if the rusting occurs underwater, it will appear green because of an additional reaction with chloride.

As mentioned above, metals begin to rust when they come into contact with oxygen and water, but both actually need to be present to cause the reaction. Metals are most likely to rust in the rain which causes an oxidation reaction. The metal reacts with water and oxygen to form hydrated iron(III) oxide, which we see as rust.

Prevention and cure

You can slow down the rusting process with certain (weird and wonderful) protecting agents such as Vaseline, nail varnish and even melted chocolate. All of which counteract the chemical reaction and delay the rusting process.

Rust can be also actually be removed from metal using household products like lemon juice, baking soda, vinegar and steel wool. Alternatively, you can even purchase chemicals to remove it.

Inevitably, however, avoiding rusted metal forever is impossible. So, if you have a ton or two of rusted metal on your hands that’s far past the prevention stage and are wondering what on earth to do with it now; the next question naturally is: can it be recycled?

Can you recycle rusted metal?

Obviously, the most important question is: can you recycle rusted metal? And, if you can, how do you go about it?

The technicalities… again

Time to get technical again. Going right back to the beginning of your metal’s life span; when it is extracted from the earth it is in an ‘oxidised state’ more colloquially known as ore. The smelting process (the process where the metal is extracted from its ore) involved breaking bonds created by oxygen and iron so it can be refined. To recycle any rusted metal, you’ll need to remove the oxygen again.

In the recycling process, metals are shredded and then melted to create new sheets of metal. If the rust is melted without being properly extracted it will re-form once the metal cools which ultimately, is no good for anybody. This is why the recycling process includes purification, where elements can be added to the bond with the oxygen and free the iron. This process also removes other impurities such as ink or dried paint to revive the metal.

What does this mean for you?

It all sounds very complicated right, but what does this mean for you? Just because rust can be removed during the recycling process, it’s still worth bearing in mind that metals with severe rust damage will weigh less and thus will not be worth as much as pure metal.

So, the short answer is: yes, you can recycle rusted metal. You should however be mindful that it may not be worth as much.

Our tips for recycling rusted metal

Knowing that you can recycle your rusted metal, you may be keen to dispose of it straight away.

However, hold your horses for just one second as we have a few tips for you that may enhance your rusted metal recycling experience.

  • Prevention is better than cure so try one of the above tips to prevent your metal rusting in the first place. To recap, you can coat metals that are left open to the elements in varnish or even
  • Vaseline, melted chocolate or nail varnish! Better yet, keep your scrap metal in an enclosed warehouse and dispose of it before the pile gets too big
  • You can try to remove rust yourself using steel wool, lemon juice, vinegar or baking soda. Just be careful you don’t damage it further.
  • If your metal is heavily rusted, it may be worth giving us a call so we can evaluate whether your metal will be recyclable.

If you have any scrap metal on your hands – rusted or not get in touch with us today for a quote. Or, if you’re unsure whether your rusted metal is recyclable, contact us and we’ll advise you the best we can.

Tue, 16 March 2021

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