Recycling copper wire is an effective way for electrical contractors to reduce waste from job sites and make a positive impact on their community.
Your scrap copper is a valuable material. However, coordinating the logistics of recycling from a job site can eat up your time if you don’t plan ahead.
If you want to learn how to recycle copper wire on a job site, this guide will walk you through important points to consider when recycling copper wire.
4 advantages of recycling copper wire
Before you plan how to recycle your copper wire, you’ll want to know why this type of recycling is beneficial for electrical contractors.
1. Protect the environment and community health
One of the reasons copper is so prevalent in electrical wiring is because it doesn’t lose its electrical connectivity over time. Copper is an extremely durable metal.
Unfortunately, though, this resilience means copper wire does not easily deteriorate in landfills. If the copper does enter the soil, it can harm animals’ health and restrict local plant diversity.
Recycling copper wire keeps landfill levels low and slows the depletion of natural resources. The copper recycling process also uses 85 to 90 percent less energy than mining and processing virgin copper ore.
2. Build a reputation as a sustainable company
Maintaining a positive public image is a top priority for any company. A strong record of sustainability can give you a competitive advantage, helping you win more bids for projects.
When you proactively plan and implement copper recycling, you can showcase how your company is giving back to the community and protecting the environment.
3. Clean up waste from your job site
Whatever project you’re working on, scrap wire can pile up quickly. That’s why it’s important to have a plan for disposing of your scrap before you begin working.
A cluttered job site can reduce worker productivity and reflect poorly on your company’s reputation.
Your scrap wire and cable must go somewhere. Why not recycle it?
4. Earn money for scrap wire
Perhaps the most practical reason to recycle copper is to receive payment. Copper is a valuable metal that can often be sold to recoup wire costs.
The price of copper fluctuates with the economy and varies between recycling centers. Some types of copper wire are worth more than others.
What types of copper wire can be recycled?
While pure copper is 100% recyclable, copper wire usually contains other materials that may be less environmentally friendly.
Before you choose a recycling service for your copper wire, it’s important to check which types of copper the recycler accepts.
Most recyclers will process the following scrap:
- Bare bright
- Copper tubing
- Copper chops
- Insulated copper wire
Bare bright is typically the most valuable kind of copper, but many recycling services accept multiple types of wire.
Why is it hard to recycle copper wire?
For all its benefits, copper wire recycling can sometimes be difficult to coordinate.
One of the main challenges is that copper needs to be separated from other materials, such as insulation and fittings, before it can be processed and reused.
Stripping electrical wire yourself can be time-consuming if you have a large amount of scrap. Burning insulated copper wire is not a good option, either, as it is harmful for your health, toxic to the environment and illegal in the United States.
However, some copper recycling programs make the process easy for you. They process insulated wire through a chopping machine to separate the copper from the insulation.
While you’ll get the most profit from stripping wire yourself, you’ll need to calculate if it’s worth the labor cost needed to gather, strip, sort and transport the wire.
And unless you want to make daily trips to the scrap yard, you’ll need a place to store the wire until you’re ready to bring it in.
How to recycle copper wire
While recycling copper wire can involve a lot of work, the process itself is simple. Here’s how to recycle copper wire scrap from your electrical contractor business:
1. Gather your scrap wire
As you’re working on a job, collect the scrap copper wire and any other metals with resale value. Make sure to keep the copper wire separate from other scrap so you don’t accidentally throw it away.
2. Sort the wire
Next, sort your scrap into bins based on the type of copper wire.
The easiest way to sort your scrap is by separating clean wire from dirty wire. Clean wire does not have any insulation, fittings or other materials attached to it, while dirty wire does. You’ll get paid the most for clean wire, but only if it’s not mixed with dirty wire.
If you have time to strip your wire, you can turn your dirty wire into clean wire. You can collect copper wire over time, strip the insulation and drop it off when you’re ready.
3. Bring it to scrap metal company
Once you’ve accumulated enough wire to warrant a trip, find a scrap yard near you that buys and recycles copper.
At the scrap yard, the staff will examine and weigh your materials. You should get paid immediately based on the different types of wire you have.
How copper is recycled
No matter how you choose to recycle your copper wire, it will eventually reach a processing facility.
At the recycling facility, the insulated wire is first sent through a chopping line, which separates the copper from the insulation.
The granulated material then crosses a screener and a density separator. The recovered copper chops undergo a quality inspection to ensure the metal is contaminant-free and optimal for efficient melting.
The scrap is then loaded into a furnace, melted, casted and rolled into rods. The rod is then used to make building wire.
To learn more about the copper recycling process, watch this video from Encore Wire.
Start seeing the benefits of recycling copper wire
Recycling scrap copper wire accumulated at your job site has many environmental and business benefits.
While you’ll get paid the most for are bright copper wire, you’ll want to evaluate the true cost of labor and time needed to strip the wire.
The more you recycle your copper wire, the more you can refine your process for turning scrap into profit.
This article was originally published on March 23, 2018. It was updated and republished on March 23, 2021.