Navigating The Gray Areas Of Scrap Metals

Like many other industries, the scrap metal industry has its gray areas regarding collecting and selling scrap metal and the laws and regulations that go along with it. While scrap laws usually vary from state to state in the US, many restrictions and illegal things apply nationwide. With scrap metal theft becoming increasingly common in the industry, many new laws are being considered to deter crimes. Whether it is a copper pipe/wire theft, air conditioning units stolen, or catalytic converters cut out, there are many things to consider before you make your next scrap hunting trip.

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Legally Selling Copper Wires & Pipes


Usually collected from households and businesses, you should expect to be seen as a suspicious customer if you bring a large quantity (1,000 lbs.+) of scrap copper to a scrap yard. While it isn’t illegal to sell copper wire, scrap yards look for the type of business person you are. If they notice the van or truck has a business name for electrical, contracting, or plumbing work, it is normal for those businesses to collect hundreds of pounds of copper at a time. Whether from new installations, demolitions, or a collection of copper over time, scrap yards will recognize that the copper is coming from a trusted business owner.

If you are not an official business owner but rather legally collect copper and wire from clients or homeowners in your area, having some proof of any communications with those you picked up from may be a good idea. Copper is a high-priced commodity, and the suspicion around collecting it can put you in hot water if the scrap yard reports you to the police. Be sure to let your scrap yard know you are legally collecting the copper from any remodeling or demolition that local homeowners willingly give you.

Recycling Air Conditioner Units

scrapping an air conditioner

Some companies like HVAC or plumbers often bring large rooftop or standalone air conditioner units to their local scrapyard. Usually, these companies can legally remove the freon refrigerant inside the air conditioner. Freon, the chemical used to cool the air inside the unit, if not dealt with properly, can result in hefty fines dished out by the EPA for thousands of dollars. Those who steal air conditioner units from buildings or homes often will not drain the freon or do it illegally and then bring it to a scrap yard. Scrap yards usually will not accept air conditioners with freon inside because they cannot be recycled until the freon has been removed.

Many scrappers will come across air conditioner units during the summer months when they start to kick the can. Sometimes, it can be from your house or neighbors but scrap them properly to ensure the EPA does not fine you. If you have a few air conditioners and want to scrap an A/C unit, call your local licensed HVAC contractor to have them remove the freon from the unit. Perhaps you can sell it to them for less than scrap value, and you don’t have to deal with the headache of removing the freon.

Replacing Your Catalytic Converter


Salvage yards often purchase used auto parts, including catalytic converters, to increase inventory. Many precious metals in the catalytic converter on your car help reduce the toxins released into the air from your engine’s exhaust system. When auto body shops or mechanics are looking to sell the replaced catalytic converters, they usually will bring a larger quantity that has been saved up to their scrap yard. The scrap yards typically have an account with their business for the catalytic converters they sell for scrap.

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As a vehicle owner, you must keep any parts replaced or repaired from your vehicle. So if you have to replace your catalytic converter, you can ask your mechanic to save the old one for you to scrap with your local yard. But be careful and aware that some states, like North Carolina, have recently passed new regulations requiring you to be a licensed professional to sell auto parts to a scrap yard. So, if you are fixing up your car yourself, you may not be able to sell your old parts to a scrap yard but instead have to give them to your mechanic.

Wrap Up!

So, if you want to sell some of these materials with your local scrap yard, check ahead with your yard to see if any regulations or laws will affect how you recycle your scrap metals. It is always good to be educated about what you are doing so it doesn’t come and bite you in the Brass!