An Old-Timer's Frugal Experience With Metal Recycling

Updated on February 29, 2020
GoldenRod LM profile image

John is a baby boomer whose father endured the Great Depression. He was taught to be frugal and very self sufficient. It's his way of life.

So What Else Can I Recycle?

Many of you know about the recycling of aluminum cans, brass fixtures, and other common nonferrous metals. But this article highlights a few things perhaps not so popular to recycle. Included are some observations on how to find these items.

Maybe Save Your Haul For Better Markets

Since I love to wander in the desert taking photographs and getting outdoor exercise, anything of potential value winds up in my sights. I suppose one must be a collector at heart to see the value in discards. Experience has taught me to have bins to dump metal in; it can be of benefit in the long run. It doesn't take much time or effort to acquire a sizable amount of metal.

If the metals market is down, try storing the stuffed buckets in a shed until the market rises. For instance, I recently turned in 70 pounds of steel at 1.5 cents per pound. That's $1.05 in my pocket. But two months earlier when the market was higher, I could have gotten 7 - 8 cents a pound for a grand total of $7.35 - $8.40. It pays to shop around by phone before you leave home. The recycled iron market fluctuates up and down frequently. With respect to steel, I always call. Nonferrous metals prices are less volatile.

Steel shell casings can be sold, though bringing a relatively small amount per pound.
Steel shell casings can be sold, though bringing a relatively small amount per pound. | Source

Gather Brass Shell Casings

If you have an area near you where folks target shoot, you probably have a good chance of collecting brass. Most frequented open shooting areas are replete with .22 caliber, .223 caliber, .45 caliber, 9 mm, and .40 caliber brass shell casings. With the price of brass rising we should anticipate fewer abandoned shells as shooters buy less expensive steel cartridges. But there is plenty of brass in gun cabinets across the country, and some shooters prefer brass. Most metal yards will gladly take them, but a few just want yellow brass (untarnished). Why? Because it's less time consuming. There is no need to check your material with a magnet to guarantee it's brass. Call around to see where you can bring your finds. As of this writing in my home town, almost all recyclers are glad to buy brass at $1.25 - $1.30 per pound.

This is, for the most part, yellow brass.
This is, for the most part, yellow brass. | Source
While searching for expended cartridges, you will find some live ammunition. Recyclers will not accept it due to the danger.
While searching for expended cartridges, you will find some live ammunition. Recyclers will not accept it due to the danger. | Source

You Won't Break the Bank, But Careful With Your Back

Of course picking up brass casings involves stooping or sitting, so it may not be to your liking. You can bring a little stool with you, but those with back problems may not want to pursue this. I have tried developing tools to make it easier but none have been too helpful. Using a lobby dustpan and sweeping an area will wind up yielding multiple casings with debris. A lot of shells won't be amenable to sweeping. But you may have luck with it.

My rule of thumb comes down to this. If I see some steel while already bent over to fetch brass, I will pick it up. You would be amazed at how much steel poundage you can pick up this way. But I know friends who will gather steel shells as primary recycle material. Of course, be on the lookout for abandoned auto parts like starters alternators, and rims; anything that is metal. Many shooting spots are famous for being illegal dumping grounds.

Where Do You Find Empty Brass Shell Casings?

Many good target shooting areas have a hill, a rise, or a berm nearby to shoot into. I have found that most shootists are extremely aware of safety. So you might limit your searching to areas with those characteristics. Areas not far from trails seem to be popular, also. Asking associates who practice firing their weapons where they go can be fruitful. Often they have their own favorite outdoor spots.

BLM lands that aren't designated as National Wilderness or Special Areas are wide open for sport shooting. I am providing this information not necessarily to shooters, but to those who wish to scavenge for brass, aluminum, copper, lead, or steel.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Copper clad bulletOxidized copper jacketNote the lead centerAn old target that lies in front of a barrier formed by a wall of an abandoned open pit perlite mine. There are probably bullets behind and underneath it.
Copper clad bullet
Copper clad bullet | Source
Oxidized copper jacket
Oxidized copper jacket | Source
Note the lead center
Note the lead center | Source
An old target that lies in front of a barrier formed by a wall of an abandoned open pit perlite mine. There are probably bullets behind and underneath it.
An old target that lies in front of a barrier formed by a wall of an abandoned open pit perlite mine. There are probably bullets behind and underneath it. | Source

Another Source of Recyclable Metal

If you go to the shooting backstops take a small garden hand rake and work through it. You'll find bullets not too far buried. Bullets that have penetrated a wooden backstop and then embedded in a berm are the easiest to find. If I am out and about and am finished collecting shells, I usually do the raking last. It doesn't take long and if the range you are at is old, there can be a respectable number of copper clad bullets.

The bullets in the photo below weighed in at 3 pounds. I usually don't take them to the yard unless the container is half full. My yardman calls the bullets "mixed" (copper and lead, sometimes steel that is copper washed) and pays me 10 cents per pound.

Sold as "mixed", bullets are usually made of copper and lead.
Sold as "mixed", bullets are usually made of copper and lead. | Source

Why Do I Explore and Scrap?

I do this because the sunsets in Arizona are breathtaking. The rock formations and pebbles on the road are dazzling. Monsoon rains leave the place smelling wonderfully of creosote. I can escape living within while I hike. Thousands of acres are at my doorstep. My silent friends, the cacti, come in a myriad of sizes and shapes. Spring wildflowers fill the roadside with vibrant color. And when I see all that can be recycled, I collect it as a retirement benefit.

As my 70th birthday draws near, I know many golden agers who are a bit down. It happens to me too. It's easy to yearn for the past when we had fewer aches and pains, were more vibrant and surrounded by family, and had an easier time keeping track of things.

Find an activity outdoors that you can always depend on to make you feel better. Get the exercise that will keep you sharp, and limber up those joints. Please experiment with things until you find your special undertaking.

I have a friend who loves to walk from golf course to golf course picking up lost golf balls. He walks, scans the forest, breathes the clean air, and scours the land for errant balls. He doesn't have to, but for some reason he loves it. He knows every good spot to search. Bagging them up for sale, he sells them at yard sales, which he also loves, providing him with exercise and some social time. He delights in telling me how much he earned. Of course, I let him know of my adventures and the latest bankroll!

A Little Scrap, A Little Cash

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 John R Wilsdon


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    • GoldenRod LM profile imageAUTHOR

      John R Wilsdon 

      23 months ago from Superior, Arizona USA

      Thanks for the comment, Mike. It is an adventure to me. Have a super day!

    • Readmikenow profile image


      23 months ago

      I enjoyed reading this article. You make it sound like sort of an adventure.


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