“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. Every year, millions of tons of metal are sold to scrap yards to make everything from planes to musical instruments to electronics. 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.
There are many factors that come into play when determining what that scrap metal is worth. 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. Everyone wants to get the best possible price for their scrap metal. But are scrap prices completely out of your hands or are there things you can do to ensure that you get top dollar? Here’s what to pay attention to when you examine a piece of scrap metal—and the circumstances that can affect your quote.
Supply and Demand
Supply and demand—the laws governing all markets—are a huge factor in how scrap metal pricing is determined. The demand for particular metals significantly impacts the price you’ll get at the scrapyard.
The economy influences almost every aspect of our lives, so it makes sense that it would partially dictate your scrap metal prices, too. 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.
In many areas of the country, construction projects slow down or stop altogether when winter approaches. With less demand for construction materials such as rebar, electrical cables or steel girders, the price for the metals used to make those materials will fall. When the weather becomes warmer and construction projects pick back up, the value of the scrap metal will increase
Countries that manufacture countless goods for the global market—such as China and India—will import large amounts of metal for their factories. When they import metal, the price of that metal will go up, when they don’t, it goes down. Since silicon is used in all kinds of technological equipment from computers to solar cells, demand for it has risen significantly over the last few decades, especially in countries that manufacture a lot of technological goods. And that has naturally driven up the price.
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.
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. Scarce metals such as gold and platinum will fetch a high price simply because there isn’t much of it and they are in high demand. 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! 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. 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.
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 and manufacturing products where tensile strength is a necessity. Understandably, manufacturers don’t pay top dollar for tainted metals.
The purity of your scrap metal will play a large part in determining its value. Metals such as brass, copper, iron, steel and aluminum all have different levels of purity. The higher the purity of your scrap is, the more valuable it will be at the scrap yard.
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!
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. If the price of fuel has skyrocketed, it will cost more to ship the scrap metal to where it needs to go.
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. The name of the game is quality and quantity. While there are many factors that are beyond the control of the average person, there are some things that will help you get more money for your scrap:
- Make sure your scrap is clean. This will help you get more for your efforts. There is often insulation, plastics, oil and other unwanted elements attached to scrap metal. Make sure that you have taken the time to remove any undesirable substances from your scrap metal.
- Organize your haul. Time is money, and it takes time for a scrap yard employee to separate different metals. Take the time to separate your steel from your brass from your aluminum. You can even take it a step further and separate your metals into subcategories based on purity.
- Take the time to ask questions. Find out what your local scrap yard does and does not accept. Make notes about pricing. There’s no sense in hauling your load to the yard just to find out that they don’t accept what you are dropping off, or that your haul isn’t worth what you thought it was.
- Wait until you have a bigger load to scrap. You may 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. Gardner Metal Recycling offers a broad range of services to those in the scrap metal industry: demolition and clearing, scrap metal pick-up services and metal container rental to name a few.
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! And sign up for our bi-monthly scrap metal price alerts.