How To Separate Your Copper Scrap for Recycling

Ever come across some metal or items that you know can be recycled at your local scrap yard? In today’s world of energy-efficient cars and technology, recycling is a well-known practice among most communities. Scrap metal recycling is one of the largest industries in the world that adds to the growing culture of restoring, renewing, and recycling. When you are gathering a pile of metal to recycle, it’s not as easy as just tossing it all in a can.

Just like when you separate paper and plastic recycling, scrap metal recycling does the same but with different types of metals. The main reason for this is the difference in the value of recycling different metals like copper, aluminum, and steel. If you aren’t familiar with how different metals are determined, we suggest reading more about the difference between ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Once you learn a bit more about determining what kind of metal you have, it will be easier to start separating your metals before you recycle.

The Importance of Recycling Scrap Copper

Copper is a reddish-colored metal that is very valuable in the scrap metal industry. Used in many applications, copper can be found inside your computer, throughout your house for electric wiring, inside your car’s engine, and inside your bathrooms for piping. Because of the various ways copper can be used in everyday things, it is valued very highly in scrap metal recycling. Mining raw copper ore is a tedious and costly process, therefore, if the world can recycle it from previous places, it’s much more cost-effective.

Scrap Copper Recycling Facts:

  • The US produces about 8% of the world’s total copper supply.
  • During the copper recycling process, it saves between 85-90% of energy resources as opposed to mining the earth for new copper ore.
  • The Worldwide supply of copper is about 8.1 trillion pounds, but we have only mined about 13.6% (1.1 trillion pounds) throughout history.

Copper is a great conductor of electricity and can be found inside wires and cables, but due to its durability, it’s also great for things like pipes for water and oil. If you find that you have copper scrap you are ready to sell to your local scrap yard, it’s now time to figure out how to properly separate it. Similar to separating copper from other metals, there are also different grades of copper scrap that have different values. These values are determined based on the difficulty and efficiency of the smelting process that copper materials go through to be reused.

Different Scrap Copper Types To Separate

When you are collecting your copper scrap to cash in at your local scrap yard, it’s important to make sure you have all the different types and grades separated. While each scrap yard is different in how they grade, sort, and process copper, these are some of the basic categories on how to organize your copper scrap.

Do You Have Bare Bright Copper Wire or #1 Copper Wire?

One of the most common, highly valued metals, bare bright copper wire, or #1 copper wire, is a clean and solid copper wire. If it once had any insulation, plastic, or rubber attached to it, it has since been removed. There are no signs of heavy oxidization or oils on the wire. This wire should absolutely be separated from your other coppers. Sometimes, scrappers or contractors that come across wires or cables with bare bright copper inside, will strip the insulation off it to get to the bare copper inside and make more money at the scrap yard.

#1 Copper Tubing or Flashing or Bus Bar

Similar to #1 bare bright wire, #1 copper tubing or flashing or bus bar is also clean of any impurities like brass fittings, steel, plastic, or tin solder. Often used for plumbing fixtures, radiators for cooling systems, and electrical systems, #1 copper should be separated from other coppers that may have other materials attached. If you have roofing copper that has not been applied and is clean of tar or paint, that can be considered #1 copper too. If you’re a contractor or plumber that has a lot of copper piping from plumbing fixtures, if you can cut the brass fittings and tin solder off from the ends of the copper tubing, you will be able to make more money on it.

#2 Copper Tubing or Flashing

After you have cut and sorted your #1 copper, it’s time to look at what you have left over. When you cut copper pipe you will probably be left with some pieces that have paint, tin solder, or brass fittings attached. This will be separated as a #2 copper and should be priced below your #1 copper price. Sometimes copper pipes that have oil residue or may have been used with different applications with chemicals will be sorted as #2 copper. These pieces are sorted separately because processing them takes longer and has more impurities attached.

#3 Copper or Roofing Copper

Roofing copper is another type of copper that is generally always separate from #1 and #2 copper. Roofing copper is usually valued much lower because of the amount of tar and/or paint that is on it. When processing roofing copper for reuse, the paint and tar have to be burned off and it is a much more involved process. If you have roofing copper that has not been applied with tar or paint, then generally scrap yards will classify it as #1 copper or clean roofing copper.

Insulated Copper Wire & Cable

There are many types of copper wire and cable that you can learn about further, but this is the basic run down to make sure you separate these wires from the rest of your copper scrap. Obviously used for electricity, copper wires, and cables can be found all over from homes to cars to computers to appliances. If you are interested in stripping the wires for bare bright copper, we suggest anything larger than your pinky finger would be a good gauge. Otherwise, you may spend too much time stripping the wire and not make enough money once the time and effort are spent.

Suggested Resource: Check The iScrap App Metal Guide for Types of Wires & Cables

These are the basics of separating your copper scrap when heading to your scrap yard. Once you know the basics of types of copper, it will be easier to sort them. As you learn more, be sure to ask your scrap yard about how they sort and separate their copper scrap so you know how they will buy it when you bring it to their facility to recycle. If you need help finding scrap yards, you can search through the iScrap App directory.

    Resource: Copper Development Association Inc.