Learn how recycling scrap metal can reduce end-of-project costs.

Every construction jobsite generates a lot of waste materials, including metal debris. Developing a plan to manage your recyclables can help reduce your end-of-project costs and improve your bottom line.

Unfortunately, many construction business owners let their employees or others take excess scrap metal, or they throw it directly into a dumpster. Some people actually pay to get rid of recyclables. 

Without having a recycling plan in place, you could be leaving money on the table. What may look like junk actually has real value.

In the Las Vegas area, we work with electrical contractors who complete large casino hotel projects. When the job is finished, the contractors normally have partial rolls of wire and steel conduit pipe leftover. For those leftover items, we have written checks in excess of $50,000. The bottom line: There is money in metal recycling if it is managed well.

Find a Reputable Partner


To manage your metal recyclables, you should first partner with a vendor that can successfully manage your end-of-project expenses. Your vendor must recognize the type of work you do and explain how they can help you. Begin by discussing the type of project you are working on and the materials involved. Typically, the vendor will conduct an on-site assessment. 

The most important step is finding a licensed, reputable recycling company that is preferably a member of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI), a non-profit trade association. ISRI member companies subscribe to a code of ethics adopted by the association—this code determines how they purchase, process and sell recyclable materials. A licensed, reputable recycling company will take pictures and/or videotapes of every metal load that comes into their facility. Scales are computer-read and verified. A reputable company will also provide you with an audit trail because they have nothing to hide. 

It is wise to take cautionary steps to be sure the vendor is reputable—ethical vendors will not have a problem with this. Spot-check vendors by periodically calling their facility, and ask for photos of a particular load to make sure the time and date stamp on the pictures match the time and date stamp on the scale ticket. Some companies can even provide video transactions retroactively for a period of time.

Also, when choosing a vendor, use one that has a legitimate business location and is properly licensed in the jurisdiction in which they do business. Many mobile recyclers are available, but not fully knowing who you work with can cause problems.  In some cases, you could be supporting the guy who is buying the materials that were stolen from your construction site. 

Most reputable recyclers will not buy metal materials from your company trucks and pay their employees with this money, unless they have a letter from you authorizing this. In addition, they will make sure the materials received from you are recycled. For instance, if you are an HVAC contractor trying to recycle air conditioners, a licensed recycler will make sure the Freon is properly recycled. They should follow all guidelines established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and local regulations. If you deal with an unlicensed recycler, you could face penalties from the EPA. 


Construction scrap might include garbage and valuable metal. An unlicensed recycler may be inclined to dump that garbage illegally, but a licensed recycler will make sure all material is disposed of properly.

When selling materials, sell it by the pound on a certified scale. Avoid anyone who offers you “so much for this pile and so much for that pile.”

Make Your Recycling Program Work

If you can make the rules to your recycling program simple for your employees, it should not be hard to implement a program. Business owners often say, “My guys just can’t sort things.” And we tell them: “It’s easy. If it is metal, it goes in this bin, and if it’s not metal, it goes in the garbage.” 

Most construction owners want to recycle as much as possible. Almost everything can be recycled at a construction site, including the wood, drywall and even the plastic buckets that contain the drywall, mud and paint. These items have minimal value until they are separated. By dealing with a licensed, legitimate material recovery firm (MRF), you will pay less to have your materials hauled away because they will sort and resell these materials.

Remember, it is important to work with a quality MRF to assure the materials are handled correctly and not dumped somewhere illegally. Typically, for every ten boxes brought in, MRFs can recycle seven, and the remaining three will go to the landfill.

Prevent Metal Theft


Unfortunately, metal theft is one of the biggest problems construction business owners face. A reputable recycling company can help solve this problem for you. Recycling companies usually have small bins or covers for roll-off bins that can be placed on-site. 

Even if your jobsites are surrounded by security, and you require employees to check in and out, you still need covered bins to keep employees from stealing metal. 

Some recycling companies provide small, forklift bins. Employees can easily put material in the bins, making it easy to participate in the recycling program. To make this work, put a padlock on the bin at the end of the day. And if you are still worried about people stealing, ask your recycler to put container seals on the covered bins. If your recycler is not willing to help you secure your scrap or prevent metal theft, then it is time to find someone else.

Get Started

Anything made of metal is worth recycling if it is done correctly. By recycling, you will immediately notice a reduction in your hauling costs. If you throw away everything into a dumpster, you are actually paying someone to haul away materials that they will turn around and sell. Take advantage of that money instead.

For instance, businesses that save wire scrap for a year can potentially get several thousands of dollars.


By implementing an effective recyclables program, it should be easy for your company to recover at least 10 percent or more of your material costs. Any business with a focus on the bottom line cannot afford to pass on this opportunity.


Construction Business Owner, May 2011