Cleaning up the Industrial Industry

The Best Places to Find Scrap Copper

by Alfredo Harper

With scrap copper prices well above the $2.00 per pound mark in most areas, now is a good time to look around for the highly valuable metal. Scrap metal recycling isn't as tough as you might think. In fact, there are a number of surprising places where copper can lay hidden. The following offers a short list of places where you can easily find and extract scrap copper.

Demolition Sites

Old buildings that are slated for demolition often contain a treasure trove of copper, from old copper plumbing pipes to electrical wiring, roofing trim and decorative elements such as statues, ornaments and vases.

If there's a demolition site nearby, contact and negotiate with the contractor on-site for permission to collect the copper scrap. Don't forget to abide by all of the safety rules for the site.

Home Renovations

Like demolition sites, home renovation and remodeling projects are great places to find scrap copper. For instance, a plumbing project to replace old copper pipes with newer PVC piping can net a substantial haul. You can also find copper scrap in the form of discarded metal artwork and other home décor.

As with the demolition site, you should contact the contractor on-site and owner of the property for permission to remove scrap copper from the premises.

CRT Televisions and Monitors

With flat-screen televisions and monitors a common fixture in most households, their older cathode-ray tube (CRT) counterparts have largely fallen by the wayside. It's pretty easy to find CRT televisions and monitors discarded on top of trash piles and next to dumpsters. Underneath their plastic exterior, however, lies a non-trivial amount of valuable copper.

Most scrappers tend to break the tubes to get to the copper yoke, but that's a bad idea both environmentally and health-wise. Fortunately, there are ways you can extract the copper without making a mess and exposing yourself to toxic gases.

Old Household Appliances

You'd be amazed at how much copper can be found within an old refrigerator, washer or air conditioner. These old appliances often contain motors that can be disassembled for their copper coils. Refrigerators often contain copper evaporator and condenser coils, although some states require these components to be professionally recycled to avoid releasing any lingering refrigerant into the atmosphere.

For many homeowners, getting rid of old and defective appliances often means paying someone to pick them up and haul them away. You can take advantage of this by offering to pick up old appliances for free.  

Old Alternators and Starters

Worn-out starters and alternators may not be of much use to car owners, but they can easily enjoy a second life when broken down for scrap. For instance, you can disassemble a starter motor and gain access to the copper armature within. Alternators also feature copper windings that could prove profitable when collected in bulk.

You can find old starters and alternators at your local junkyard. Make sure you're only taking parts that are definitely worn-out—after all, it's inconsiderate to other patrons to take perfectly good parts that can still be used in other vehicles. You can also see if your local auto repair shop has any starters or alternators lying around. However, most shops tend to exchange these as cores for remanufacturing when purchasing new parts.

Insulated Wiring and Cabling

Those power cables, extension cords and Cat 5/6 Ethernet cables often contain a small amount of copper within. They're surprisingly easy to find and collect. For example, when harvesting old appliances, electronics and monitors, you can remove the power cords and set them aside in a bin for later examination and processing.

Keep in mind that most junkyards accept insulated wiring and cabling as-is, but at a lower rate than bare copper wiring and cabling. For this reason, it's usually a good idea to strip your wiring prior to turning it in. You should also keep in mind that stripping your wiring could cost you nearly half of the weight of the material, resulting in a smaller-than-normal profit unless you have a large quantity of wiring on hand.