A Common Building Material
Metal is a well-known material category whose many variations are used in almost every type of manufacturing, either as a part of a product or in the machinery used to create the product. These malleable materials can commonly be characterized by their strength, shine, and ability to conduct heat and electricity.
Everyday Examples of Metal
Some of the most common examples of metal are steel, tin, copper, iron, and aluminum. Metal is commonly used in home appliances, phones, and electronics. It is the primary building material in most vehicles and is a traditional food packaging medium for canned products like soup and soda.
An Ancient Lineage
Many metals exist naturally in, and can be mined from, the earth. Some metals are combined with other elements to create alloys (like steel). For thousands of years, the study, extraction, and use of metal has been a part of human cultures.
Modern Metallurgy and Waste
Beginning in the 19th century, the industrial production of metal for building and manufacturing began in earnest and has increased exponentially ever since. Along with that expansion, waste connected to this material has also risen. EPA estimates that by 2012, nearly 9 percent (22.38 million tons) of all municipal solid waste in the U.S. was comprised of metal.
Metal can be recycled successfully. Metal can be melted down and reused in manufacturing processes, cutting the emissions and environmental damage associated with new mining and manufacturing.
The process can also be fast. For example, aluminum can be recycled, melted down, remade (for example, into a soup can), and appear back on grocery store shelves in as little as 60 days.
There are many incentive programs like the one offered by Recyclebank, which offers rewards for participation in household recycling with points that translate into real savings for community and national brands. Furthermore, neighborhood pay-as-you-throw trash programs — wherein residents must pay for the amount of trash they produce — become more economical for consumers the more metal items are recycled. In some areas, it is illegal to throw recyclable metal into the trash.
Maximum environmental benefits can be achieved through reusing metal products. The durability of the material lends itself to products that last and can be repaired when damaged.
It’s easy to make a positive contribution to the environment by reusing, even with small, everyday projects like transforming a soup can into a desktop organizer.