What Is Swarf?

The goal of manufacturing is to create new, valuable objects from components, but often, the object being made is not the only valuable thing that’s produced. While they don’t command the same prices as completed components, byproducts of machining and other industrial processes can be sold, offsetting the cost of materials. Swarf is a prime example of this principle in action, with metal swarf, in particular, often holding enough value to provide a net gain after handling, transportation, and recycling. 

What Is Swarf?

Generally, swarf refers to the shavings, turnings, and filings left over when something is created from a larger amount of material. This can include plastic, wood, and any other material used in manufacturing; metal swarf, however, is typically the most valuable.

The Dangers of Mishandling Swarf

In their raw form, industrial byproducts can present hazards in the places where they’re created. In addition to being ejected from machinery at high velocities, fresh metal shavings can be extremely hot to the touch or have sharp edges, all of which can cause injury when not handled properly. Machine operators are required to wear protective clothing while performing processes that create swarf. Fine particles from many materials can also be harmful when inhaled, so proper PPE is a necessity when handling any kind of machining waste. This is not only true during machining and other work; care must be taken when cleaning up and collecting leftover material as well. 

Even more potentially dangerous is flammability. It may be obvious that sawdust and other wood swarf should never be exposed to flames, but what may come as a surprise is the fact that swarf from certain reactive metals can be even more flammable. Not only does swarf like this pose a hazard in the presence of flames, but combustion due to friction or high ambient temperatures is also a very real possibility. This danger is even more present when the metal pieces are still coated in leftover oil from the cutting or grinding process. 

When not cleaned up and disposed of properly, certain kinds of swarf can remain in the environment for an extremely long time without degrading. This can be harmful to local plants, animals, and any humans that come in contact with the scrap. Even worse, unused materials can make their way into water systems. Contaminated water is harmful to local ecology, as well as making the water unsafe for humans to drink. While most particles can be filtered out, some kinds of waste (particularly metal swarf) can cause strain on local water treatment systems. 

Reasons to Recycle Swarf

Because of the potential risks, getting rid of swarf safely is a high priority, but recycling your swarf is about more than simply clearing a workplace hazard. As we mentioned earlier, many types of swarf can actually be valuable when recycled correctly. 

While leftover scraps may not be as valuable as the complete sources they came from, recycling your swarf can help you recoup the cost of your materials. Likewise, recycling swarf rather than throwing it away reduces waste, playing a role in any company’s ESG policy, as well as increasing the sustainability of the material it came from. Reclaimed metal can take the place of metals that would otherwise have to be mined from the ground. 

Another advantage of recycling metal swarf is reducing the number of chemicals that make it into local environments and water systems. Often, leftover metal will contain traces of oil and other chemicals that are part of the cutting process. During recycling, these oils are separated from the metal with a centrifuge and disposed of in an environmentally responsible manner. 

How to Recycle Swarf

In order to be recycled, swarf first needs to be collected. Safety protocols usually advise against directly handling metal scraps or blowing them with compressed air. Most of the time, leftover metals are sucked up with an industrial shop vacuum or swept into piles (where it is safe to do so). 

Before being picked up for recycling, most shops will follow a few basic steps to prepare their swarf for recycling. First, different metal types (such as aluminum and copper) need to be separated. Once metals are organized by their component elements, solid chunks are separated from fine particles like chips and shavings. Finally, when possible, as much of the cutting fluids and chemicals as possible should be drained or separated from the swarf. 

To make handling and transportation easier (and safer), loose swarf is often compressed into bricks or other forms, which can then be melted down to repurpose. Like other forms of recycling, making the most of swarf requires special knowledge and tools, and dealing with it in-house goes beyond the scope of most operations. Working with a metal recycling expert is usually the best way for companies to handle their scrap in a safe, practical way. 

Make the Most of Your Metal Swarf with FAMCe

Whether you’re looking to get rid of swarf from your machine shop or don’t know what to do with your outdated equipment and computers, recycling experts are an invaluable resource. Working with the right ITAD partner can ensure that all of your nonferrous metal components are properly disposed of. Not only does this ensure that swarf, electronic devices, and other metal items are reused or recycled in a safe, efficient manner, but it also provides opportunities for a monetary return, as the components extracted from these devices can have significant value on the scrap and ITAD markets. 

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 and nonferrous metal recycling needs.

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

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