Copper is one of the most commonly recycled materials in the world.
Scrap copper wire can be found in extension cords, strings of Christmas lights, old desktop computers, power cables, and much more.
Copper wire prices are higher than scrap stainless steel and most other metals. Below, we have what you need to know about scrap copper wire prices per pound.
Types of Copper Wire
There are several different types of copper wire. Some scrap yards will only sort copper wire into two different categories: high-grade copper wire (which contains only a single layer of insulation) or low-grade copper wire (which has a double layer of insulation).
However, copper wire can actually be differentiated into five distinct categories.
The higher the grade of copper, the more a scrap yard will be willing to pay for it, so it’s useful to know the different categories in order to estimate how much your scrap copper is worth.
The categories include:
- 10% wire: Christmas lights are the most common example of 10% wire.
- 35% wire: Things like VGA wires, telephone wires, and other communication wires are typically 35% grade.
- 50% wire: Appliance cords and extension cords are the most common example of 50% wire.
- 70% wire: 70% wire is typically found as the internal wires in electronics or appliances.
- 85% wire: This is thin-case wire that’s roughly the diameter of a pencil.
Wire isn’t the only type of copper scrap. Other forms of copper that are commonly sold to scrap yards include:
- Scrap copper solids (the most valuable form of copper scrap)
- Scrap copper non-solids (including copper chips, dust, shavings, etc.)
- Scrap copper alloys (most commonly brass and bronze)
- Scrap copper breakage (motors, windings, alternators, inductors, etc.)
Historical Copper Wire Prices
Prices for copper fluctuate on a daily basis. Like other commodities, copper prices are influenced by the value of the U.S. dollar, government trade policies, investment fund value, and basic supply and demand.
To give you a rough idea of how copper prices can change over time, we compiled the following information based on historical data from InvestmentMine.
November 2016 Copper Prices
The price of scrap copper rose considerably in November 2016, from a low of $2.20 per pound on Nov. 1 to a high of $2.67 per pound on Nov. 11, finishing out the month close to $2.60 per pound.
6-Month Historical Copper Prices (June through November 2016)
Over the six-month period between June 2016 and November 2016, copper prices remained relatively stable with a few small dips and one notable spike at the end of this time period.
The historical low for this period was about $2.06 per pound, while the historical high was about $2.67.
1-Year Historical Copper Prices (2016)
During 2016, the price of copper remained almost entirely in the range of $2 to $2.30 per pound. Only once did it dip below $2, bottoming out at $1.98 for a short period in January 2016.
The record high came toward the end of the year, where the maximum copper price landed at around $2.67 in mid-November 2016.
5-Year Historical Copper Prices (2011 through 2016)
Copper prices have been on a strong downward trend for the past five years. Peak prices in 2011 hit $4.50 per pound, and the value has declined steadily since.
There have been a few notable spikes and drops within this time frame, most notably the recent jump from $2.04 per pound up to $2.67 per pound in November 2016.
Historical Copper Prices Over the Last 27 Years
Copper prices over the last 27 years have been characterized by long periods of relative stability followed by abrupt inclines and declines.
From 1989 to 2004, copper stayed almost entirely within the range of $0.50 to $1.50.
Prices spiked in 2006 to 2008, hitting a high of $4.02 per pound in 2008.
After a tumultuous few years marked by numerous peaks and valleys, the past seven years have shown a gradual decline in overall copper prices.
Where to Find Scrap Copper Wire
What are the most common places to find scrap copper wire? In our hyper-electronic society, copper wire is everywhere.
Here are some of the most common places that you can find copper wire:
- Small electronics, including handheld game systems or cell phones — basically anything that is regularly plugged into the wall for charging is likely to be a source of copper wire
- Laptops, DVD players, VCRs, and similar devices
- Desktop computers; boards, hard drives, and other internal components of desktop towers house plenty of copper wire
- Monitors and televisions; the monitors themselves won’t be accepted by scrapyards, but the copper in the power cord and other cables will be. Just snip off the wires at the base and add it to your stock of insulated scrap copper.
- Kitchen appliances (here’s how much copper is in a refrigerator compressor and how much you’ll earn) and other small household appliances, such as AC units, coffee makers, blenders, mixers, toasters, fans, and more.
- Large appliances like refrigerators, washers and dryers, and dishwashers — the bulk of these items are mostly steel, but be sure to take the copper wiring off the back to add to your copper weight.
- Extension cords, or power cords connected to any sort of appliance.
Selling Copper Wire
What do you do once you’ve collected a good stock of scrap copper wire? Sell it!
You’ll need to find a local salvage yard, scrap dealer, or recycling center that is interested in purchasing copper.
Once you’ve settled on a scrap yard that will buy your copper wire, you’ll typically need to haul it there yourself — although some scrap yards do offer pickup, so it’s worth asking if this service is available to save yourself a trip.
To help deter theft, many state governments require copper sellers to register with the scrap yard by entering their personal information into a database along with information about the copper that’s being sold.
You may also be required to submit your thumbprint to the database as part of this theft deterrent program.
Payment may be in the form of cash, or in some cases, you may be presented with a slip of paper that must be taken to an ATM to receive cash.
Tips to Get the Best Copper Wire Prices
Strip the copper wire
Before selling copper wire, it’s a good idea to strip any insulation off of the wire.
This process removes the plastic insulation that’s used as a protective covering over the most common types of copper wire.
There are a variety of ways to do this. Here’s one of the simplest methods, courtesy of Trustway Metal:
- Take a large soup pot, fill it with water, and bring to a boil.
- Add in the copper wire that you want to strip and let it sit for 10 minutes.
- Remove the copper from the water (be sure to wear protective gloves).
- Hold the copper wire firmly in one hand and use the other to pull the plastic insulation off the copper. It should separate easily, but you’ll need to be quick about it before the plastic has a chance to cool again.
You can also buy a wire stripper, which is essentially a specialized set of pliers that allows you to strip the insulation off the copper.
Never burn the plastic coating off of wiring — fire will damage the metal and the scrap yard will pay less for the reduced quality copper.
Some experts recommend only stripping wire if you have a large quantity (over 100 pounds or so) to make it worth your while because while scrap yards pay more for bare wire, you’ll be greatly reducing the weight of your haul.
For small amounts of wire, it may not be efficient to remove the insulation because you won’t increase the value enough to make up for the lost weight.
Watch the price trends
As you can see from the historical prices outlined above, the price of copper is far from consistent.
Remember that the value can fluctuate based on local demand as well as global influences.
Although the scrapyard won’t offer you the full market value of your copper, it’s still a good idea to hold onto your stockpile until the price hits a peak.
Sort the metal before you get to the scrap yard
It’s important to note that most scrap yards will not allow you to sort scrap metal once you’re there.
If you have multiple types of metal or different grades of wire, be sure to keep it separate — otherwise, the scrap yard will classify the entire lot as the least-valuable material in it, which can mean a significant cut to your payout.
Make your trip to the scrap yard worthwhile
Many scrap yards have a minimum weight that they’ll accept, simply because it’s more economical for them to process copper and other metals in larger batches instead of smaller ones.
You’ll need to contact your local scrap dealer to find out if there’s a minimum and what it might be — but even if there’s no minimum, most places will pay relatively more for a large lot than for a few small individual pieces.
Save up your copper for one big payout to get the biggest reward for your efforts.
For more on scrapping copper, see our related research covering what other cooper items are worth.