Scrap Metal Prices and What Influences Them


“Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes…” Sure, David Bowie probably wasn’t talking about scrap metal prices when he sang those lyrics, but they’re nonetheless applicable. Market prices for scrap metals are constantly in flux. In fact, the price for a particular metal is subject to change at any time, so scrap metal prices today may be completely different tomorrow.

Of course, it’s not just the market that does the talking. Other factors influence your metal’s worth, including a specific specimen’s purity and condition. Here’s what to pay attention to when you examine a piece of scrap metal—and the circumstances that can affect your quote.



When something is harder to find, people will pay more to get a piece of it. That rule applies whether you’re talking Renoirs or rhodium. For instance, there are only about 161,000 tons of mined gold on Earth—that’s less than you’d need to fill up two Olympic-sized pools! Platinum, meanwhile, is even rarer. In fact, all the available platinum in the world would only take up the space in an average living room.

That scarcity is responsible in part for the high scrap metal prices for these materials. For gold, for example, you’d pay over $1,300 an ounce with today’s market price. However, metals like brass and iron are much less rare, so you’ll usually find that brass scrap prices are much lower than the going rates for gold. Similarly, scrap iron prices rarely surpass those of say, a couple of platinum thermocouple wires.


Market Prices

The economy influences almost every aspect of our lives, so it makes sense that it would partially dictate your scrap metal prices, too. The US actually exports a lot of its scrap metal to other countries, particularly China, so international market prices can come into play, as well. If the going rate for metal spikes in one part of the globe, it can definitely impact the price your scrap metal dealer offers locally.



When you hear someone talking about karats of gold, they’re referring to its purity, or the amount of imperfections in the metal. Impurities may include debris or ash added to the metal during refining. Or they may describe other substances mixed in with the virgin ore—everything from sulfur to nitrogen to tin.

Impurities like these can affect not only the appearance of the metal, but also its structural integrity. For instance, steel mixed with sulfur may turn brittle, which makes it ineffective for construction manufacturing and other products where tensile strength is a necessity. Understandably, manufacturers don’t pay top dollar for tainted metals.


Processing Time

Sometimes it takes a lot of work to get a piece of scrap back into pristine condition. Say you bring in a piece of copper wire covered in plastic insulation. Your scrapyard has to do extra work to strip the coating off the wire before it’s suitable for processing. Therefore, we offer you a higher price if you do the stripping for us—our thanks for taking a little work off our plate.

Corrosion, paint and debris can also bring down scrap metal prices, so if you want the best rates, be sure to clean your scrap before you bring it in!


Transportation Costs

Your location—and your metal’s final destination—also influences scrap metal prices. Austin-based scrap yards might not pay as much for metals they have to ship off to Philadelphia. The cost to transport materials factors into their worth and ultimately influences the price you’ll get back at the scrapyard.


Supply and Demand

The demand for particular metals significantly impacts the price you’ll get at the scrapyard. For instance, scrap copper prices tend to fluctuate when the economy is especially high or low. That’s because copper rates are largely determined by the amount of construction going on. And naturally, when the economy is bad, no one wants to build.

Another example comes from silicon. Since this material is used in all kinds of technological equipment from computers to solar cells, demand for it has risen significantly over the last few decades. And that has naturally driven up the price. They don’t call it Silicon Valley for nothing!

On the flip side, aluminum is in much higher supply, so the stainless steel scrap price or the price of aluminum per pound is typically lower than, say, copper, gold or silicon.


What You Can Do To Get a Better Price

While some factors are immovable, there are a couple of things you can do to get a better price on your scrap. For one thing, cleaning materials and stripping off any existing paint, insulation or corrosion will almost always get you a higher cash-in at the scrap yard.

You may also be able to negotiate a better rate if you’re dropping off a lot of scrap at once. For instance, if you have a truckload of high-demand copper, you might make your scrapyard manager’s day—and he or she may reward you handsomely for it!


Getting to know your local scrap yard, its workers and its rules will help you get a better idea of what affects prices in your area. Of course, if you have questions about rates, you can always contact us here at Gardner Metals for more information. We love talking scrap metal prices!