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104 Sterner Mill Road
Trevose, PA 19053

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Scrap Recycling of Insulated Copper Wires

November 30th, 2012 by

Collecting and selling insulated copper wire is a large part of what we do here at Kurtz Metals. To give our readers a better idea of what goes into this process, we spoke to Burke Donnelly, who processes it all.

The first thing he told us is that the when it comes to recycling insulated copper wire, it’s all about return. In other words, the more copper in an insulated copper wire, the better. The wire we get in comes with a range of additional materials, from plastic jacket material to metal wire nuts that connect wires together. Different types of wire contain different amounts of copper. Burke broke down these wire types for us, as well as the typical amount of copper they each contain.

#1 small wire (THHN): 70%+ copper
This type of wire is made up of a single strand of solid or braided bare copper with a single outside jacket. It has a noticeable weight to it.

Romex wire: 60–64% copper
Romex wire consists of two copper wires and one ground wire, insulated by a simple plastic jacket.

#2 small wire: 45%+ copper
Extension cords are one example of #2 small wire. In addition, all tin coated copper is #2 copper.

CAT5 cable: 45% copper
Low yielding wire used in telephone communication with multiple insulated strands.

Coax Cable: <10%
The cable that connects your cable box to your television is an example of coax cable.

It’s not the job of those dropping off wire to know what type of wire they’ve got. That’s what Burke’s here for. He gets it all in and sorts it accordingly. But having a better understanding of what you’re bringing in will give you a better idea of what you can expect in return. The higher copper percentage your wire contains, the more we’ll pay. Anything extraneous, such as wire nuts, will bring down the value of your wire.

There are two reasons why extraneous materials matter even if the copper content is the same. At Kurtz we clean the insulated wire. The companies we supply pay by recovered content. If we send 10,000 lbs. of insulated copper that recovers 8,000 lbs. they pay according to the recovered weight. So contamination lowers the recovery contents.

The second reason is that outside contamination changes the chemical composition of the copper itself. Many insulated wires have an aluminum, lead or steel shield surrounding the copper, or there may be brass connectors attached to the wire. It is important to have these contaminants removed in order to make #1 insulated copper wire.

Much like we charge by the pound of wire, we pay by the pound as well. So if you have the time and labor available, it’s always better to strip the wire down to the copper, but it’s certainly not necessary. And even if you only have CAT5 cable, or wire with a lot of plugs, wire nuts or steel pushpins, it’s still worth bringing it in—we’ll still pay you for it.

We’d like to thank Burke for sitting down with us and giving us a look at what goes into sorting and recycling insulated copper wire.