Sustainability Principles

Metals Recycling

Using sustainable
innovation to extract value

An essential part of the metals recycling process happens between the collection of scrap and its transformation into new products. Metals must be sorted, broken down into appropriate sizes for melting, and compacted for delivery to customers.

Schnitzer’s recycling yards and shredding facilities perform this fundamental role. Our principal priority is to identify customers for the metal we process — and thereby enable these materials to be reused. Precise sortation technology is key to achieving this goal.

Installed technology upgrades allow us to extract approximately

188,000 pounds

of additional insulated copper wire per month

Schnitzer’s recycling facilities collect both ferrous metals and non-ferrous metals. Ferrous metal makes up the majority of the scrap we receive. We process these metals by shearing, torching, baling, and ultimately sending them through shredders, which break down materials more efficiently than manual processing and yield an end product that is denser and more suitable for use by steel mills.

Non-ferrous metals include stainless steel, aluminum, copper, brass, and zinc, which can also be recycled into new products. In the past, we sold mixed packages of these materials, which we exported for further sortation. Today, as customers demand more defined packages of metals, Schnitzer is adding enhanced separation capabilities to our non-ferrous metal recovery plants, also referred to as joint product plants (JPP). These new capabilities allow us to increase the quality and purity of our product mix, extract a greater volume of non-ferrous material to sell, and reduce the material that we dispose. And, because these higher-quality products can be sold directly to smelters, we eliminate a processing and transportation step and those associated emissions.

From 2012 to 2019,

16 million

pounds of wire kept
out of landfills

The separation technologies we employ include magnets, eddy currents, air jets, and electronic and near-infrared sensors that sort and identify materials down to just a few millimeters in size. The individual materials may be small, but they add up to significant savings. For example, several years ago we upgraded our JPPs to better recover insulated copper wire from the mixed non-metallic and non-ferrous material generated by the metal shredding process, greatly decreasing the amount we send to landfills.

Now, Schnitzer is exploring a state-of-the-art gravity separation process that would sort materials even more finely, expanding our landfill-diversion capabilities even further, and creating a higher-quality product for our customers. As automobiles, one of our main sources of scrap, come equipped with more electronic and plastic components, the importance of leveraging sustainable innovation will only grow.

After we have extracted and diverted as much metal as possible from shredded material, what remains is automotive shredder residue (ASR), a combination of plastic, foam, wood, rubber, glass, and more. Even here, there is potential to create sustainable value. Much of the ASR from our operations is beneficially reused as alternative daily cover by municipal solid waste landfills. Learn more here.