Metals Recycling

Imagine a scrapyard, and you might picture clutter and disarray. But the reality is just the opposite. Our metals yards bring order to chaos, neatly sorting, sizing, and baling materials so that they can be put to new use.

We process ferrous metals—or those containing iron—by shearing, torching, baling, or sending them through shredders, which break down materials more efficiently than manual processing. The end product is denser and more suitable for use by steel mills.

We also process non-ferrous metals such as stainless steel, aluminum, copper, and brass; all products that can all be recycled into new products. In the past, we sold a significant portion of these materials as mixed grades, which we exported for further sorting. Today, to meet increased customer demand for more refined grades of metals, Schnitzer is upgrading and expanding enhanced separation capabilities in our non-ferrous metal recovery plants, also referred to as Joint Product Plants.

While Schnitzer’s recycling facilities have recycled and sold ferrous and non-ferrous metals for more than a century, we are seizing the opportunity to more precisely sort non-ferrous metals and other materials that form a growing component of the scrap stream. For example, household appliances and vehicles have been an important part of modern life for decades. With the increased use of complex electronic components in these products, our metals yards must recover a greater volume of highly complex scrap materials when they reach the end of their useful lives. This, in turn, requires the use of advanced sorting technologies that ensure consumer safety, protect the environment, and minimize the amount of material sent to landfills.

In addition to our investments in advanced sorting technology, we have invested significantly in equipment to reduce the emissions from our metals recycling operations. (Learn more here). We are also identifying additional customers for recycled products and working with a growing number of retailers and manufacturers in need of recycling services.

Breaking Down Schnitzer’s Scrap Stream


Shredded and sent to mills to be made into new products


Beneficially used
as alternative daily cover for landfills


Sourced from industrial manufacturers, large retailers, landfill operators, and individuals


Sorted and sent to smelters to be made into new products

  • copper
  • zorba


Compacted and sent
to material recovery facilities or other customers

Investing in Innovation

Recent investments include two cable processing systems installed on the U.S. west and east coasts. This equipment cuts insulated copper wire into small pieces, from which we then separate the copper from the plastic. This allows us to not only compete in international markets with stringent quality standards, like China, but also to sell significant amounts of copper directly into domestic markets.

In addition, we are taking action to upgrade our metal recovery technology at key facilities in the U.S. These systems will make use of advanced processes that will allow us to separate shredded metals into various streams of non-ferrous shredded metals. We anticipate these projects will be fully operational in Spring 2021.

All of these projects will allow us to increase product optionality, extract a greater volume of non-ferrous metal to sell, and reduce the material that we send to landfills. By the time our new non-ferrous processing systems and heavy media plants are complete, we expect that we will be able to recover 20 percent more non-ferrous material than before. Each year, approximately 2.1 million tons of end-of-life appliances end up in landfills in the U.S., so extracting more metal will not only provide us with enhanced revenue, but significantly reduce negative environmental impacts.

The upgraded equipment itself is also more efficient, requiring shorter run times, which means greater safety for operators, more time for routine maintenance, and reduced electricity use and associated emissions. And, because the higher-quality products we will be producing can be sold directly to smelters, we will eliminate a processing and transportation step, along with the associated emission impacts.

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