Ferrous scrap is metal and metal alloys that contain iron – most commonly steel, cast iron, and wrought iron. The iron content of ferrous scrap is what makes it magnetic, an important characteristic when it comes to sorting scrap. Ferrous scrap often comes from old cars, farm and industrial equipment, household appliances, railroad tracks, and ships.

Ferrous scrap comes in three groups: Home scrap, which is generated by steel mills and foundries during the manufacturing process; Industrial scrap, also called prompt or new scrap, comes from the metal-working industries from the leftovers created when a piece of metal is cut or a hole is drilled; and Obsolete scrap, or old scrap, which is made up of worn-out, unused, and unwanted metal.

Iron scraps. Photo by Narumi-lock, August 2005. Courtesy of Flickr.


Nearly 40% of worldwide steel production is made using recycled steel. The popularity of ferrous metal recycling is due, in part, to the ability to recover large structures (like railroad tracks and building skeletons) in a cost-efficient manner. The magnetic properties of ferrous scrap make it easy to separate from other waste, saving time and effort on the part of scrap processors.

Steel in particular is 100% recyclable and doesn’t degrade through the recycling process, which means it can be recycled over and over again. You can find recycled steel in everything from construction materials to household appliances to hardware like nuts, bolts, screws, and nails.

Compacted steel scraps pile in one of the yards of Central European Waste Management, Austria. Photo by Rotor DB, no date. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Recycling steel and iron has an enormous positive impact on the environment. Using recycled ferrous metals over newly-mined iron ore and coal results in a 74% reduction in energy use, an 86% reduction in air pollution, a 76% reduction in water pollution, and carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 58%.

Iron scrap metal collection. Photo by Daniel X. O’Neil, July 3, 2009. Courtesy of Flickr.


The word ferrous comes from the Latin word ferrum, meaning iron.

The largest single source of obsolete ferrous scrap in the United States is used vehicles.

Every ton of steel made from recycled scrap saves enough energy to power 4 homes for a whole year.