Spotlight on Copper

copper cable

Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto.


Copper is the best non-precious conductor of electricity. As such it is widely used in industry, for electrical distribution, electric motors and servos, generators, conductors of all sorts – even the wiring in your house is made of copper.

Copper is also malleable, and relatively resistant to corrosion due to a protective layer of copper oxide that forms naturally, so it is used extensively in plumbing.

Copper shortages have set the price of copper oscillating wildly in recent years, with further shortages forecast by industry analysts for the near future. Because of this it is vital to recycle copper, but there are challenges.

Recycling Copper

First, that copper you have may not even be copper! Copper is a versatile element in the alloying of other materials, like brass. Brass might range from 85% copper in the case of red brass, to as little as 50% in that of brazing solder. Although still recyclable, the different types of brass are grades unto themselves, and are not commingled with scrap copper. Copper is often electroplated unto other metals as well, which gives them the appearance of copper. Even pennies are no longer made from copper, being 97.5% zinc, due to the falling value of the dollar coupled with copper shortages.

Copper is also often used inside of other equipment – like electric motors. The copper must at some point be removed from the device during the recycling process, and that makes it worth less. Also, since the copper is hidden away inside, many times items like motors are just chucked into the nearest garbage bin.

Because it is an excellent conductor, wires are commonly made of copper. From a recycling perspective, this is unfortunate because wires and cables are often insulated, and this insulation is difficult to remove. This makes it worth less in the market.

Are you detecting a pattern? Anything that dilutes the copper – excessive corrosion, insulation, other metals – lowers the value of the pure copper in the marketplace.

Recycling Tips for Copper

The worst thing you can do with copper waste is to throw it away. This is more than a financial issue, the world copper supply is growing more slowly than demand. It is surprising how quickly the dollars mount up for what looks like a small amount of copper.

The second worst thing is to throw all your non-ferrous metals together, thereby lowering the value of all your scrap in aggregate. Keep bright copper apart, sort things like brass and foreign metals like aluminum from the rest. Not sure how to identify the various metals? Bring some samples down to American Recycling and we’ll show you how to get top dollar for your scrap.

Industrial customers with a large amount of copper waste are likely very familiar with the ins and outs of non-ferrous recycling. We invite you to contact us for a competitive bid.

Success Story

Despite forecast shortages, the story of copper recycling is one of success. In 2007, the US scrap industry recycled 1.8 million metric tons of copper, supplying 21% of the world’s supply of recovered copper. This is enough copper to construct the Statue of Liberty over 30,000 times.