Alloy – Metals that are combined with other substances to make them harder, stronger, lighter, or better in one way or another. 


Bale – A compacted and bound cube of recycled material. Most commonly cardboard, paper or plastic.

Baler – A pressing machine designed to bring together loose pieces of cardboard, paper, plastic or other scrap materials into a neat and manageable shape. This aids in the transportation and reuse of materials in the recycling industry.

Baling – The process of crushing scrap material into a cube, which can be stored and easily transported. 

Bone – Bone refers to the by-product of animals as it relates to scrap.

Briquetting – The act of compressing scrap into dense bricks for easy storage and transport. 

Broker – Someone who negotiates and sells scrap. 


Chemical analyses – The process of determining a material’s chemical composition. 

CIO Congress of Industrial Organizations: a federation of unions that organized workers in industrial unions from 1935 to 1955. 

Crusher – A tool used to compact loosely bundled scrap into dense blocks that are easy to transport or can be easily added to a smelter. 

Crane – A machine that can raise and lower heavy objects and move objects horizontally. 

  • Electromagnetic Cranes – Used to pick up and move objects and piles of material containing steel and iron. An electromagnet hangs from the arm of a crane and uses a magnetic field created by an electric current to lift ferrous scrap. 


Eddy Currents – Currents that circulate in conductors through the use of changing magnetic fields.

Electromagnet – A tool that uses a magnetic field created by an electric current to lift ferrous scrap. It consists of an iron middle with a wire wrapped around it. When the electric current travels through the wire, the magnet turns on. 

Environmentalism – A way of thinking and acting that seeks to balance the interconnections of human activity with the needs of animals, plants, and non-living matter. 

Entrepreneurship – The process of creating a new business. A person who creates a new business is known as an Entrepreneur.

EPAEnvironmental Protection Agency: a government agency established in 1970 with a mission to protect human health and the environment. 

Eastern Scrap Iron Association – Founded in 1928 to help ferrous metals dealers threatened by steel producers who began their own scrap collection and processing. It was renamed ISIS (Institute of Scrap Iron and Steel) later that year.

European Coal and Steel Community – The precursor to the European Union. It promoted the scrap iron trade within Europe as part of postwar reconstruction.

E-scrap – Discarded electronic products, also referred to as E-waste. 


Federal Trade Commission – A government agency created in 1939 by the Code of Fair Trade Practice. Its mission is to protect consumers and business competition.

Ferrous Scrap – Metal scrap that contains iron and is usually magnetic


Glass – A hard material made from sand, soda ash, and limestone, usually transparent in its purest form. 

Grappling Claw – A tool for grabbing and moving material. It is often used for non-magnetic materials like paper, rag, and plastic. Most Grappling claws use hydraulically actuated cylinders to grab objects, though some are also outfitted with electromagnets. 

Grinding Wheel – A tool used to identify metals. The metal is touched to the wheel and the color of sparks produced identifies the type. 


Hammer and chisel – Hand tools that are used for breaking apart objects. 

Home Scrap – Ferrous scrap that is generated by steel mills and foundries and is a by-product of the manufacturing process. It does not leave the plant but is returned to the furnace on site to be used again. 

Hopper – A container used to temporarily store materials so that they can be easily dumped into a machine for processing. 


Immigrant A person who permanently moved from their country of birth to another. Many people involved in the scrap industry were or are immigrants.

Incinerator – A machine for burning waste material at high temperatures.

  • Smokeless Incinerator – A specific type of incinerator patented to reduce exposure to harmful fumes produced by converting old cars into scrap metal.

Industrialization – The process of developing industries in a region, country, or culture. 

Invent – To design or create something that has never been created before. 

Innovation – To create a new idea, method, or devise. It can also mean a change made to an existing product, idea, or field. 


Junk – Old, worn, discarded or obsolete materials that may be used again in some form. This includes old iron, glass, paper, textiles, and electronic materials. 


Landfill – A site for the disposal of waste materials by burying waste into the ground, also known as a dump. 

Lugger Truck – A truck that is capable of loading, transporting, and unloading large amounts of scrap. 


Magnets – Pieces of material that attracts ferrous metals. Used for sorting and moving scrap. 

Metal – A material that when polished shows a lustrous (shiny) appearance and is a good conductor of electricity and heat. Metals are usually malleable and easy to work into different shapes and forms. 


Non-ferrous Scrap – Metal that does not contain iron and is not magnetic. 


OSHAOccupational Safety and Health Administration: a government agency established in 1970 with a mission to ensure safe and healthful working conditions. 


Paper – A thin material made by pressing together thin fibers made from wood, rags, grasses, or other materials. Paper products include newspapers, magazines, office paper, and cardboard boxes. 

Peddler – Someone who sells scrap, used items, or small objects along the street or door-to-door. 

  • Scrap Peddler – a person who specifically buys and sells scrap door-to-door. Also referred to as a Junk Peddler.  

Plastic – A synthetic or semi-synthetic material that is highly malleable. 


Rag – Scrap textiles, such as cotton, wool, and synthetic materials, ready to be reused in new products. 

Ragmen – A person who collects or deals in rags or textiles. Also sometimes referred to as Rag Pickers or “old clothes men.” 

Raw Material – An unprocessed natural resource.  

Recycling – The reprocessing of old materials into new products. 

Rubber – A stretchy material that can be natural or synthetic.

  • Scale – A tool used for measuring the weight of materials.
  • Hand Scale – Used to measure weights of smaller objects (like a stack of newspapers) and is usually portable. 
  • Platform Scale – used to measure large weights. Some platform scales are large enough for entire shipping trucks to weigh their loads.
  • Sliding Scale – This scale indicates the chemical composition and value per pound and ton of a broad variety of stainless steel.
  • Toledo Scale – a specific brand of scale often used in the scrap industry


Scrap – Left over materials from manufacturing processes or consumption. Scrap is manufactured into valuable commodities that are used to make new products. Scrap is also sometimes referred to as junk, waste, trash, or garbage by those not in the industry. 

Scrapper – An individual who works in the scrap industry. A scrapper collects recyclable materials and may supply them to a scrap dealer for sale or sell the scrap themselves. 

Scrap Yard – A place for receiving and processing scrap. Also often referred to as a Junk Yard.  

Shears – A tool for cutting metal. 

  • Alligator Sheer – This tool works like a pair of scissors, where the top blade opens and closes along a pivot point inside the machine to cut metal. Alligator shears can be stationary or mobile.
  • Guillotine Shear – This tool cuts scrap by descending vertically to cut along the entire surface of the shearing blade at once. The guillotine shear is stationary. 

Ship Breaker – Someone who breaks up vessels unfit for further use and deals in their materials. 

Ship Breaking – The process of turning retired or defunct ships into scrap metal. 

Shredding – A process developed in the 1950s to breakdown ferrous scrap quickly by using a machine to cut scrap into small strips.  

  • Ambient Shredding – The specific process of shredding a tire at room temperature using powerful, interlocking knives. 

Shredder – Piece of machinery that reduces all manner of materials (paper, plastics, metals etc.) into smaller strips of material. 

  • Prolerizer – Invented in 1956, the Prolerizer was the first shredder capable of processing an entire automobile, representing a significant jump in efficiency and quality of automotive recycling. Its invention in 1956 was the first machine that could 

Shaking Scrap Sorting Table – Used for sorting out small pieces of scrap. The table shakes to spread material evenly over the surface and moves the materials from one end of the table to another, where the scrap then falls into a receptacle.

“Skull Cracking” – The practice of using an electromagnetic crane to drop large steel balls or plates to break apart or crush material. 

Smelter – A worker who is involved with the process of smelting. Also refers to a factory where smelting takes place.

Smelting – To melt or fuse a substance, such as ore, often with an accompanying chemical change. 

Sorting – Separating scrap materials by type. 

Sorter – A worker who separates scrap materials in a scrap yard.  

Spectroscopic Tools –Tools using different spectrums of light to identify different types of scrap materials. 

  • Laser Induced Breakdown Spectroscopy (LIBS) Analyzer – spectroscopic tool that allows a worker to quickly identify the composition of a material
  • Optical Emission Spectroscopy (OES) Analyzer – spectroscopic tool that allows a worker to quickly identify the composition of a material
  • Spectrometer – An instrument that measures wavelengths of light to determine the chemical composition of an item. They are often used to check for the existence of impurities in ferrous scrap.
  • Spectroscope – A tool that analyzes the unique light frequencies reflected off a type of material to identify its composition; used to determine the material of a piece of scrap.
  • X-ray Fluorescene (SRF) Analyzer – spectroscopic tool that allows a worker to quickly identify the composition of a material; bombards materials with X-rays to analyze the elemental composition of that material; used in identification of metals, glass, ceramics, and building materials
  • X-Ray Microfluorescence Spectroscopy (XMS) System – desktop laboratory that bombarded materials with X-rays to analyze the elemental composition of that material; used in variety of applications, including in the identification of metals, glass, ceramics, and building materials

Steelmaking – The process of producing steel from iron ore or scrap. 

  • Basic Oxygen Process – A refined version of the Bessemer Process that used pure oxygen to remove carbon from iron. This process came into use in the United States in the mid-1950s and are still in use today.
  • Bessemer Process – This process relied on oxidation to remove impurities from iron. This process was patented in 1856 and reduced steel costs by 75% over earlier methods of steelmaking. 

Sustainability – A practice where both manufacturing and consumers work to preserve and protect natural resources. Sustainable practices support ecological, human, and economic health and vitality. Learn more here. 

Sweatshop – A workplace where employees work for long hours at low wages and under unhealthy conditions.


Textiles – A textile is a flexible material comprised of a network of natural or artificial fibers often referred to as thread or yarn. Textiles are formed by weaving, knitting, crocheting, knotting, or pressing fibers together. Clothing, blankets, and sheets are all considered textiles.

Tire Rubber – Used on wheels, tire rubber is a highly engineered, composite product that is virtually indestructible under a variety of conditions. 

Torch – A handheld tool that produces a flame. Torches are used to cut scrap into smaller sizes. 

  • Acetylene Torch – Used by scrappers to cut apart ships, train cars, rails, and other metal objects. The acetylene torch was first adapted in 1907 in the Brooklyn Navy Yard to cut portholes in 3-inch thick steel ship hulls.

Trade Associations – are organizations founded and funded by businesses in an industry. Scrap recyclers created multiple associations to represent their interests to government agencies, other businesses, and their customers, as well as to provide guidance and safety training

  • ISIS – Institute of Scrap Iron and Steel, 1928-1987. 
  • ISRI – Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, Inc, 1987-present.
  • NASMI – National Association of Secondary Materials Industries, 1962-1974.
  • NARI – National Association of Recycling Industries, 1974-1987. 
  • NAWMD – National Association of Waste Materials Dealers, 1914-1962. 
  • National Metal Dealers Association – served the non-ferrous metal scrap recycling industry


Upcycling – A process of reusing 100% of a scrap material. 

Union – An organized group of workers who join together to improve their working conditions. 


Waste – Waste is an unwanted or undesired material or substance. It is also referred to as rubbish, trash, or junk. Material that has no further use and is relegated to landfills or incinerated. 

Waste Reclamation Service – This organization was created as part of the War Industries Board in World War I. It promoted the idea of conservation and salvage by ordinary Americans at home to combat wartime shortages. 

Weight – The weight of a material is used to determine its value. In the scrap industry, weight is often standardized by material.