The Evolution of Sorting Scrap Metal

By Ali Godden

Scrap metal recycling has become such an integral part of our society in both an economic and environmental sense. Environmentally speaking, it mitigates the amount of metal that ends up in landfill and expends far less energy when compared to mining virgin ore. Economically, newly recycled and repurposed metal also enables cheaper alternatives to freshly produced products whilst still retaining close to the same (if not the same in some cases) qualities and advantages.

As scrap metal buyers, we relish in the fact that we’re involved in such a forward-thinking industry that’s paving the way for future generations. It wasn’t always an easy job, though, and the industry has made numerous investments in technological advancements over the years that have worked to streamline the scrap metal recycling process. The most notable of which is sorting.

The evolution of sorting

Sorting is arguably the most integral part of the scrap metal recycling process. It’s in this phase where not only all the types of metals are differentiated from each other, but all the individual alloys within the types of metal as well. If metal is not sorted properly to begin with, then the end-result may be contaminated and be unusable as a product.

Once all the types of metal and alloys are sorted they can then be processed and shredded. Manual methods such as using nitric acid to identify copper are no longer the norm. Even the “magnet” test which was used to differentiate between steel and stainless steel is obsolete as there are now over 150 grades of stainless steel – making it difficult for a simple magnet to distinguish them.

XRF and LIBS technology

Sorting manually by hand, though slow and tedious, was feasible many years ago, but, as the world evolved, so too did the metal recycling industry. Modern sorting methods are not only significantly faster and more efficient but also incredibly precise in identifying alloys, grades and types of metal. Handheld smart devices use XRF (X-ray Fluorescence) and LIBS (Laser-Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy) technology to streamline the sorting process and ensure the most accurate results. 

Whilst XRF uses X-ray technology to accurately determine the type of metal, LIBS uses low-level energy and optical technology. Additionally, fully automated machines that also utilise XRF and LIBS technology are able to achieve an even more effective result. This sort of technology is an exciting showcase of how far the industry has come as well as an indicator of what the future holds.

Improved operations

With the sorting phase being so tightly organised and productive nowadays, it means that other phases in the recycling process are also heightened –  ultimately leading to a more effective and economical supply chain. This results in the newly produced recycled metal being shipped out and used for real-world applications faster than ever before. The technological developments for the sorting phase alone ripple out to the rest of the operation, improving and growing the process.

Environmental advantages of modern sorting technology

Laser methods for automatic scrap metal sorting have the aptitude to save recycling plants large amounts of money. This mechanised automatic laser sorting also has the potential for big economic savings. There are several environmental benefits to the expansive research involved in improving the sorting of scrap metal – the main one of which is that it reduces the amount that goes to landfill

The scrap metal that is discarded into landfills creates significant environmental risks and is a hazard to the soil, air, and water surrounding the landfill. This is because of the toxins, like mercury and lead, contained inside the metals. With this new technology more metal than ever is able to be sorted and recycled – resulting in less of it ending up in landfills which is great for the environment.


Did you know recycling aluminium cans saves 95% of the energy used to make new cans?

Are looking to get into metal recycling in Melbourne?

Whether it’s old cars and their motors or copper piping you’ve found under your house, scrap metal recycling is a great way to earn some money whilst helping to contribute to an environmentally friendly industry. At Metal Men Recycling, we buy all sorts of scrap metal including ferrous and non-ferrous

We offer a 24-hour pick-up service and also have a range of different bin sizes that are available to be sent to your home or business depending on what suits you best. Our helpful and experienced team members are available to help you with any questions you may have regarding scrap metal recycling.

If you would like to contact us, then please give us a call on 03 5941 6677 or you can fill out the enquiry form on our website.

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Find us at: 18 Drovers Place, Pakenham VIC 3810