How to Recycle Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals

Scrap metal is one of the most sought-after commodities in recycling, and the reason is of little surprise when you consider how much energy is saved when you recycle metal versus mining new metal ores.

When it comes to aluminum, for example, recycling scrap aluminum requires just five percent of the energy needed to produce virgin aluminum, and copper recycling is almost as efficient, with the copper recycling process requiring just 10-15 percent of the energy needed to mine the earth for new copper ore.

At Rubicon Global, we’ve written at length about different metal recycling processes, and in this blog post I want to focus on the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and the best practices your business should follow when sorting them for recycling in order to ensure that you get the maximum value for them that you possibly can.

To start, I will answer the question that this entire blog post is hinged upon: what, exactly, is the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals?

What is the Difference Between Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals?

While it’s sometimes said that the main difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is that ferrous metals are magnetic and non-ferrous metals are not, this isn’t entirely true. The key difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals is that ferrous metals contain iron (making them ferromagnetic), while non-ferrous metals do not.

Examples of ferrous metals include steel in all its forms, such as stainless steel, carbon steel, and alloy steels; cast iron, light iron, and sheet iron; nickel, titanium, and chromium, among others. Examples of non-ferrous metals include aluminum, copper, zinc, tin, lead, and bronze, again among others.

The word “ferrous” comes from “ferrum,” the Latin word for iron. It’s for this same reason that iron’s chemical element symbol is Fe. Non-ferrous metals are typically rarer than their ferrous counterparts, meaning non-ferrous metals draw a higher price on the scrap metal market.

Why You Should Separate Ferrous and Non-Ferrous Metals

With non-ferrous metals typically going for a higher price on the scrap metal commodities market, the main reason why you should separate your ferrous and non-ferrous metals is that if you don’t separate them, a container of non-specified scrap metal will be scrapped under the less-valuable ferrous grade, even if the majority of the load consists of non-ferrous metals.

Let’s say that you have a construction and demolition (C&D) recycling project that requires the scrapping of a significant amount of aluminum fixtures. Aluminum is a non-ferrous metal, and will, therefore, draw a higher price than any scrap ferrous metals you have mixed in. For this reason, separating these aluminum fixtures from all other metals before it’s taken to a scrap yard will ensure that your business will get the highest price available for this valuable metal.

When separating out your scrap metals into ferrous and non-ferrous streams, keep in mind that many metals have other classifications under which they must be sorted if you want to get the best possible price for the load.

Metals such as copper, another non-ferrous metal, are graded on a sliding scale from “Bare Bright Copper,” copper’s highest grade, to “#2 Insulated Wire,” its lowest. In the same way that valuable non-ferrous metals get lumped in with less valuable ferrous metals if the two types are combined in the same recycling stream, if you mix high-grade copper scrap with its low-grade equivalent, it is priced as if the entire load is low-grade.

How Rubicon Global Can Help

Separating out your business’s ferrous and non-ferrous metals takes time, especially if you’re looking to get the highest value possible for your metals by breaking each down by grade categories. This is where Rubicon® comes in.

At Rubicon Global, we help businesses large and small find appropriate recycling solutions for all of their waste streams in order to keep as much material out of landfills as possible, and live by our mission to end waste in all of its forms.

Our commodity metal recycling experts at Rubicon can work with your business to ensure that your ferrous and non-ferrous metals are sorted into separate recycling streams, with high-grade metals being labeled as such in order to ensure that you get the maximum value out of your scrap metal.

If you are interested in speaking with us about our commodity metal recycling program for businesses, you can reach out to me directly at jackie.beason@rubiconglobal.com, or contact our sales team at (844) 479-1507.


Jackie Beason is Director of Commodity Sales at Rubicon Global. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.

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