Understanding Nonferrous Metals

In the modern world, metal is a major part of our everyday lives. The power and plumbing in our homes and offices, the cars we drive, and even the device you’re using to read this all use various metals in their construction. While there are dozens of different metals that make up the products we rely on, many people don’t know much about them. Many of us may not even know what the different kinds of metal are. However, when you need to discard products with metal components, disposing of them properly depends heavily on what they’re made of. Specifically, you need to know whether the metals you’re dealing with are ferrous or nonferrous.

What Do Ferrous and Nonferrous Mean? 

In Latin, iron is referred to as “Ferrum.” So from this root, the term “nonferrous” describes any metal that does not contain iron as one of its elements. Ferrous metals, on the other hand, are those that contain an appreciable amount of iron.

Metals from both categories have long histories of use, but we have been using nonferrous metals for longer. The first documented use of nonferrous metal comes from 5,000 BCE, when the discovery of copper brought mankind into the Copper Age. Later, the discovery of tin allowed the two metals to be mixed together, ushering in the Bronze age. It wasn’t until approximately 1,200 BCE when iron ore was first refined into usable metal, that ferrous metals became a part of our lives. 

Modern discoveries and innovations have allowed us to get even more from the metals in our world. Ferrous metals and nonferrous metals each have their own distinctive properties. These are what make them useful in a wide variety of applications. 

Uses for Ferrous Metals

While all contain some amount of iron, ferrous metals span a broad range of types and uses. Prized for their strength and adaptability (as well as magnetic properties), iron and steel make up a huge percentage of the metal we interact with on a daily basis. Because of iron’s strength, iron-based metals and alloys have made up the majority of weapons for thousands of years. Likewise, steel has been the preferred material for construction for as long as humans have been able to create it from iron. 

While many nonferrous alternatives have similar (or far greater, in some cases) tensile strength than steel, most are still less popular. Often this is because of their relatively high costs. Due to both its proliferation, iron ore is easy to acquire. Likewise, the relative ease with which it can be processed makes workable iron far cheaper than other strong metals like titanium. 

For all the benefits that iron has, however, it has a few key weaknesses. For one, ferrous metals are heavy, making them unsuitable for applications that require lightweight materials. They also rust, a notable weakness not shared with nonferrous metals. Another limiting factor is that ferrous metals are not efficient conductors, limiting their usefulness for electrical components. 

Uses for Nonferrous Metals 

Some commonly used examples of nonferrous metals include copper, lead, and aluminum, although all pure metals (except for iron itself) are technically nonferrous. While the onset of the Iron Age displaced copper and bronze as the most popular metals for weapons and construction, nonferrous metals continue to play countless roles in our lives. Some, like gold and platinum, are primarily valued for their aesthetic qualities, but most have more utilitarian functions. 

Each nonferrous metal has unique properties that make it ideal for certain uses. For example, aluminum is valued for its lightness, while lead is appreciated for its relative softness and malleability. Others, like tungsten, are far stronger than iron-based metals. While metal usage is almost universal, one of the most widespread uses of nonferrous metals has been in the world of electronics. 

In order for electronic components to function safely and efficiently, the use of extremely conductive metals is required. While gold is both extremely conductive and corrosion-resistant, its high cost restricts it to the very highest-end electronics. Other metals, like copper and aluminum, are more commonly used as economical alternatives. Others, like zinc and brass, provide reasonable conductivity at an even lower cost. 

Disposing of Nonferrous Metals 

Because so many of the products we use contain nonferrous metals, the question of how to properly dispose of them is constantly relevant. Fortunately, metals are extremely recyclable when they are extracted from their surrounding nonmetallic components. For objects made entirely (or primarily) from metal, recycling is often a simple process. With more complex products, however, the process requires more care. 

Electronics, in particular, are challenging to recycle. The metal components in computers and other electronic devices can be valuable when correctly recycled. They are, however, often difficult to extract. When not properly disposed of, they can cause significant environmental damage. 

Rather than simply being grouped with other trash or recycling for disposal, devices like computers, phones, printers, and more all require professional IT asset disposition (ITAD). Unused metal and e-scrap are an increasingly pivotal concern in today’s fast-paced, metal-dependant world. The right ITAD partner can ensure that all of your nonferrous metal components are properly disposed of. Not only does this ensure that electronics and other metal items are reused or recycled safely and efficiently, it also provides opportunities for a monetary return. Components extracted from these devices can have significant value on the ITAD market. 

Recycle Your Nonferrous Metals with FAMCe

If you’re ready to take care of scrap metal and e-waste at your institution, First America Metal Corp. (FAMCe) can help. FAMCe has over 30 years of experience assisting organizations with the secure destruction and recycling of their outdated electronics, providing eco-friendly processing and data security solutions for various devices. Our high level of expertise and exceptional customer service have built our reputation as the leading company for your ITAD needs.

Want to recycle your old metal and devices with confidence? Contact FAMCe today for e-waste disposal that’s ethical and secure.

1 Comment

  1. […] steel and other iron-based metals, red metals are considered nonferrous, making them resistant to rust and corrosion. Because of this, red metals are often found in […]


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