Upcycle Copper Into Beautiful Creations!

Waste Management. We’ve heard the term, but is it managing the problem? Recyclart.org and other, less-awesome sites out there on the interweb (sorry, we couldn’t resist!) were inspired by the growing problem of waste management. If you’re reading this, then one approach that you already support is upcycling items that would formerly overfill those landfills into artwork, jewelry, usable tools, furniture and more. But one specific product has become popular for more than just money: Copper! Learn how to Upcycle Copper into jewelry, wall art, and more! If you don’t like the outcome, you can always recycle it for the money.

Upcycle Copper into works of art like these pretty napkin rings.

Handmade napkin rings made from upcycled electrician's wire.

Learn how to Upcycle Copper from broken appliances, renovations, and more!

Let’s look at some fast facts:

  • Trash production has tripled in the United States since 1960
  • Americans alone are responsible for producing a whopping 220 million tons of waste a year
  • Only about 32.5% is composted or recycled
  • 12.5 percent is burned (incinerated)

55 percent is buried in landfills. Trash put in a landfill will stay there for a very long time. Inside a dump, there is little oxygen and little moisture. Under these conditions, trash does not break down very rapidly. When old landfills have been excavated or sampled, 40-year-old newspapers have been found with easily readable print. Landfills are not designed to break down trash, merely to bury it. When a discharge closes, the site, especially the groundwater, must be monitored and maintained for up to 30 years!

Upcycled copper and pallet wood were combined into a unique coffee table.
Upcycled Copper and pallet wood combined into a unique coffee table.

If you’d like to read more about the eight major groups of waste management, please see the end of this post.

Now, let’s focus on copper, but don't Upcycle Copper illegally!

Before we share the information, we MUST warn you – do NOT take it upon yourself to start sourcing copper illegally. We recommend upcycling products you find around your home, like that broken blender motor or when renovating your property and the need to replace copper pipes or wires arises. We are NOT responsible for any naughtiness! *Phew*

Turn Upcycled Copper into a unique, art-deco birdbath.

A birdbath made with recycled copper elements.

Where are sources you can Upcycle Copper From?

Did you know? The statue of Liberty is made of 179,000 pounds of copper!  With that much copper, you could make 30 million pennies. For the scrap metal collector, an essential source of scrap is the electrical cable, copper flashing, old radiators and plumbing work. Copper from buildings is crucial, and content is estimated below:

In houses (estimates for a 2,100 square foot residence):

  • 195 pounds - building wire
  • 151 pounds - plumbing tube, fittings, valves
  • 24 pounds - plumbers' brass goods
  • 47 pounds - built-in appliances
  • 12 pounds - builders hardware
  • 10 pounds - other wire and tube

In an apartment of 1,000 square feet:

  • 125 pounds - building wire
  • 82 pounds - plumbing tube, fittings, valves
  • 20 pounds - plumbers' brass goods
  • 38 pounds - built-in appliances
  • 6 pounds - builders hardware
  • 7 pounds - other wire and tube

In residential appliances:

  • 52 pounds - unitary air conditioner
  • 48 pounds - unitary heat pump
  • 5.0 pounds - dishwasher
  • 4.8 pounds - refrigerator/freezer
  • 4.4 pounds - clothes washer
  • 2.7 pounds - dehumidifier
  • 2.3 pounds - disposer
  • 2.0 pounds - clothes dryer
  • 1.3 pounds - range

Cool! Are you looking around your home, thinking of that old broken blender in the back of the pantry or out in the garage? Ready to Upcycle Copper out of it?

A Dragon sculpture made out of Upcycled Copper wire and more.

A sculpture made out of upcycled copper wire and more.

Here are a few links we found to help you safely harvest the copper:

Shooting ranges – are an excellent source of Upcycle Copper, but be sure you don’t just run out there while people are target shooting. FYI – many stoves are now recycling the spent brass and steel cartridges, so ALWAYS ask first!

Small-scale repair shops – Frequently they want the old appliance, machine, motor, or broken parts are taken away, so they don’t have to hassle with it. There was a sewing machine shop near where your administrative assistant lives that put over 200 old sewing machines out for people to just pick up and harvest what scrap they could before they asked a company to come by and pick them up.

Upcycle Copper pennies into floors or countertops.

Upcycle pennies into floors or countertops.

Construction sites – but ALWAYS have WRITTEN permission, even when dumpster-diving.

Many bigger construction sites recycle, and that’s their property! Of note are construction companies that do demolition. If they’re tearing down old properties, you now know how much (approximately) can be recycled within a home. Why not help them out and Upcycle Copper?

Hospitals, medical clinics, assisted living centers and clinics - All sorts of scrap at these locations – right from the beds and wheelchairs to walkers, fixtures, and appliances – can be excellent sources of scrap metal for you. The best way to establish a relationship with them is to schedule a meeting with the administrator and explain your free pickup and scrap removal services.

Upcycle electrician's wire into beer openers; not bombs!

This bottle opener was made using old copper wire and brass stripped from abandoned missile silos.

Craigslist – What would we do these days without it? Just post an ad that you’re willing to pick up free [fill in the blank] and follow through. The other way to use Craigslist: Watch for curb alerts and free stuff. There are recyclable materials ranging from appliances to piles of old scrap metals. If you know the sources, you'll be able to Upcycle Copper for your projects!

Farms and Ranches – If you live in the country or near rural areas, this may be perfect! Consider asking about old dump sites used by ranchers and farmers. Many farms have a ravine, gully or other location where they have left junked cars, machinery, and other items over the years to rust away. As always, be sure to receive permission from the owners before entering their property.

Upcycle Copper and brass into a wall art piece.

Recycled copper pipes and brass pieces combined into a hanging art piece.

Remember, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know! Most of these businesses are more than happy to get the junk thrown out to care about their value. Just don’t come in spouting off the most current copper recycling prices. ?

If you don't want to use the copper for projects, Upcycle Copper for money!

Use Upcycled Copper to wrap natural elements into a pendant.

A natural pendant wrapped in recycled copper.

There are eight major groups of waste management methods, each divided into numerous sub-categories:

Source Recovery & Reuse - Is the process of taking useful discarded items for specific next use. These components are processed to extract or recover materials and resources or convert them to energy in the form of useable heat, electricity or fuel.

Recycling - Recycling is the process of converting waste products into new products to prevent energy usage and consumption of fresh raw materials. Recycling is the third component of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle waste hierarchy. The idea behind recycling is to reduce energy usage, reduce the volume of landfills, reduce air and water pollution, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and preserve natural resources for future use.

Upcycle Copper as part of the Three R's.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle = Thinking Green!

The Three R's is something that you, our loyal readers & contributors ROCK!

Animal feeding – This is a smart way to deal with the mounds of usable food that’s thrown out on a daily basis. A Nevada pig farmer has come up with a unique partnership with Las Vegas casinos to feed his pigs with half-eaten restaurant waste, and the pigs LOVE it! He’s been featured on many shows and articles as a creative model for using that food and saving the landfills.

Reusing waste, in this case food scraps is a way to reuse, like Upcycle copper ideas.

Feeding restaurant table scraps to pigs are ways to reuse food waste.

Composting - Composting is an easy and natural bio-degradation process that takes organic wastes (plant cuttings, garden, and kitchen waste) and turns it into nutrient-rich food for your plants. Composting, generally used for organic farming, occurs by allowing natural materials to sit in one place for months until microbes decompose it. Composting is one of the best methods of waste disposal as it can turn unsafe organic products into safe compost. On the other side, it is a slow process and takes a lot of space.

Composting saves the landfills and benefits your yard and garden.

Fermentation - Bokashi is a Japanese term meaning ‘fermented organic matter.’ It is often referred to as a type of ‘composting,’ but it is an anaerobic fermentation process, resulting in a much different end product than that produced via composting. Many people like bokashi because it is straightforward, and typically (bad) odor-free. All that is needed is a bucket (with lid), some unique bokashi mix, and of course some organic waste.

The Fermentation Process.

The fermentation process.

Landfills - Throwing daily waste/garbage in the landfills is the most popularly used method of waste disposal used today. This process of waste disposal focuses attention on burying the waste in the land. Landfill use is becoming problematic due to land space available, outgassing of methane and other byproducts, and the high risk of contaminating the surrounding environment, polluting groundwater, and the fact that the method doesn’t promote quick decomposition of the products buried.

Upcycle copper instead of filling up landfills like this.

Landfills are unsightly, use precious land space, give off noxious chemicals and gasses, and ultimately don't break down waste the way they were intended.

Incineration – Also known as combustion, or thermal treatment, burns municipal solid wastes at high temperatures to convert them into residue and gaseous products. The most significant advantage of this type of method is that it can reduce the volume of solid waste to 20 to 30 percent of the original amount. This style is popular in countries that don’t have available land space, such as Japan.

This incinerator cycle is one aspect of upcycling, as is when you Upcycle Copper.

Land Application - Land application of organic waste materials such as sewage sludge, non-sewage sludge, septage, food processing, and other solid waste provides valuable nutrients to help organically enrich soils and restore the opportunity for improved plant growth. The beneficial use of these materials not only serves to give a beneficial soil amendment but also helps divert thousands of tons of waste from landfills and incinerators, saving the cost of disposal, while preserving valuable landfill space and eliminating the potential for harmful emissions to the air we breathe.

Land application of treated sewage sludge is a method of waste management. When you Upcycle Copper, it's much prettier!

Land application of treated sewage sludge as a fertilizer.

Many of these techniques can be applied right now, at home! Implement reduction & reuse, which immediately reduces the amount of disposable material used. You can start using many techniques right at home, like reduction and reuse, which works to reduce the amount of disposable article used.

The key points about the importance of recycling, and when you Upcycle Copper is the 3 Rs; which are Reduce, Recycle and Reuse. Although these points are vital for all kinds of waste materials, in the case of copper, the three aforementioned aspects work even better. Here are some of the main benefits of recycling copper:

Upcycled Copper and a french horn become unique plumbing!

Upcycled Copper and a french horn become unique plumbing!

  • No more landfill costs: All the copper alloys and copper products that don’t end up getting recycled ends up being dumped into various landfills that are only increasing in size and quantity. Due to this, landfills are slowly becoming more expensive options for waste disposal in general. However, recycling copper solves this problem in a jiffy.
This project uses Upcycled Copper to create clocks, lamps and more.

Industrial lamps and clocks made from upcycled copper, brass, and other vintage plumbing parts.

  • Environmental benefits: With the process of mining and refining copper, many toxic gases are released into the atmosphere ends up having a harmful effect on the environment overall. However, with recycling, even the toxic sulfur dioxide is captured and used to make sulphuric acid.
Instead of open-pit copper mining, upcycle copper instead!

Open-pit copper mining.

  • Conservation of copper ore: This is an essential aspect that most of us tend to forget. Thankfully, a mere 12% of copper resources have been mined. Ultimately, copper ore is a finite resource, and one needs to work towards conserving it.
Don't just sell the copper back to a recycler; UPCYCLE COPPER!
Seeing this pile of scrap metal must give you ideas!
  • The energy saving aspect: The energy needed to extract copper from copper ore is much more than the energy required to recycle copper. This saving of energy does lead to the conservation of valuable reserves of oil and gas.
  • Economic sense: In a nutshell, it is much cheaper to recycle old copper than it is to mine and extract it anew. Also, recycling does help in keeping the cost of copper products down.

How to remove copper from an old motor by happy scrapper:

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