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Scrap metal (old appliances, vehicles, metal household items) can be easily recycled into new metal products. Recycling scrap metal can

  • save valuable landfill space — scrap metal is very bulky
  • scrap metal is valuable — aluminum scrap is worth over $1500 per tonne (2007)
  • certain metals such as mercury and lead (which are contained in some products) should be managed in an environmentally sound manner
  • increase community pride — abandoned scrap metal can be an eyesore (and in the far north in ground burial of these materials may not be possible)
  • save energy and reduce greenhouse gases — recycling steel uses 75% less energy and produces 40% less greenhouse gases than producing it from virgin materials.  Recycling aluminum and copper is even more beneficial from an energy and GHG perspective.

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The Challenges for Northern Communities

The main challenge to recovering scrap metal in northern communities is the distance to markets. The closest scrap dealers could be hundreds or even thousands of kilometres away.  The value of the metal that can be recovered may not generate much surplus once the higher costs of transportation are included.

While communities closer to markets usually get paid for their scrap, the increased cost of providing service is a disadvantage to more remote communities. If distances are too great, dealers may require communities to pay them to pick up the scrap: In other words, the cost of collection and transport exceeds the value of the metal – this is why some scrap metal piles in the north are decades in the making (and still growing).

Another potential difficulty can occur for communities who have small amounts of scrap metal. Picking up scrap metal usually involves specialized equipment and many dealers won’t go to a community unless there is enough scrap to make it economically worthwhile. Metal piles that are contaminated are another problem. If the metal is mixed in with non-metal items, the cost of separating it out is often higher than the value of the metal.

Strategies for Northern Communities

Community Co-operation

The larger the scrap metal pile, the more attractive it is to scrap metal dealers. Several communities may want to think about combining their scrap into one large pile. Choose a site with an accessible road that can accommodate heavy equipment. Most scrap metal dealers prefer a minimum of 200 tonnes of metal before they travel to pick up a pile (confirm this before you start). This is roughly 135 vehicles or 2500 appliances. Smaller communities would need many years to accumulate this amount, so it makes sense to consider combining piles to improve economies of scale.

Keep a clean, well-organized pile

Scrap metal dealers will not put their labour into sorting out the metal from a pile contaminated with wood, dirt or other non-metal items. In addition to being more attractive to scrap dealers, tidy, organized piles can contribute to community pride.

Some care and planning is necessary to keep the scrap metal pile contaminant free. Good, clear signs and a clearly marked area for citizens to drop off scrap metal are a good starting point. Keeping an eye on the pile and removing inappropriate items (i.e., if it is not mostly metal, it belongs somewhere else) stops other citizens from thinking it is okay to put non-metallic items into the scrap metal pile.

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Handling old appliances

Some appliances require special handling to minimize their hazard to the community. Communities may want to consider charging a small fee for accepting CFC containing appliances that could be put toward the cost of having the CFCs removed. Appliances should be lined up with the backs facing out. Once the coolants have been removed, the appliances and other household scrap can be pushed into a pile to reduce space, as long as no dirt gets mixed in.  Contact Refrigerant Management Canada for more information.

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Handling scrap vehicles

Provincial and territorial regulations may ban the disposal (burial) of vehicles at landfills. Communities can get a permit to establish a designated area for vehicles. It makes sense to have a scrap vehicle drop-off near the general scrap metal pile if there is enough space.  There may be regulations requiring that old vehicles stored in the designated area have the battery, oil and gas removed beforehand. Vehicles should be stored in a single layer. Although this takes up more space, vehicles should never be flattened. The scrap dealers need access to the trunks and hoods to be able to remove any mercury switches and other hazardous items before they flatten the vehicles themselves.

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Separate out the aluminium and copper

Aluminium and copper have a higher value than steel. Keep them separate from the other scrap and the dealers will be able to give you a higher price for them. You can tell they are not steel because a magnet won’t stick to them. The higher value of nonferrous (non-steel/iron) metals may help offset the costs of getting metal out of more remote communities. Communities may want to consider securing these metal piles to prevent scavenging.

Getting the scrap out

Scrap metal companies may have mobile equipment (e.g. portable crushers) to handle accumulated piles.  Use the Canadian Metals and Minerals Recycling Database to find potentially interested companies (all information in the database needs to be confirmed).  Another option is to hire a trucking company to haul scrap metal to a regional consolidation centre.  Consult the Yellow Pages for this.

This document was prepared by the Saskatchewan Waste Reduction Council, www.saskwastereduction.ca with Government of Canada Climate Change Mitigation Program support and Natural Resources Canada staff input, http://www.nrcan-nrcan.gc.ca/mms-smm/busi-indu/rec-rec-eng.htm, September 2007