Short Answer: Scrap lead can be readily found in industrial and household items, including car batteries, old pipes and plumbing systems, fishing sinkers, and more. If you need a bit of extra cash, you may be able to sell the scrap lead you find. Below, we have what you need to know about selling lead including how to identify it, how much it is worth in different parts of the U.S., and how to work with it safely.
What Objects Are Made From Lead?
Although it’s fallen out of public favor, lead has a long history of usefulness. Among the biggest advantages of the material, lead is highly malleable and pliable, and it’s also resistant to corrosion. This made it a common material for things like plumbing pipes, service lines, and solder well into the mid-1980s, before many of its adverse health effects were common knowledge.
Today, lead remains an important metal in many industries and applications. However, it is now valued more for its chemical properties, which make it well-suited for use in industrial products such as:
- Radiation protection
- Underwater power and communication cables
- Vehicle batteries
- Electric vehicle batteries
- Batteries operating emergency power supplies
Of these items, batteries are likely the greatest source of scrap lead. Around 80% of modern lead usage is in the manufacturing of batteries.
Common non-industrial items made from lead include:
- Scuba weights
- Fishing sinkers
- Old pipes (including church organ pipes)
Suggested article: Where to Buy Lead Ingots
Anywhere you go, indoors or outdoors, lead is likely to be present. However, it can be difficult to know from sight alone what type of metal something is composed of. There are a few general characteristics that can help you identify lead. Lead is a heavy, smooth, and very soft metal; it can be scratched easily with a box cutter or even a coin. It’s dull gray in color and gets very shiny when polished or when oxidation is scraped off. Lead is also not magnetic.
How Much Is Lead Worth?
For most of 2019, the average price for lead in the U.S. hovered around $2,000 per ton. Regarding price records for lead, the all-time high price for a metric ton was $3,989 in October 2007. The lowest price on record was $357 per ton in October of 1993.
The price of scrap lead varies according to demand as well as geographical location. To give you a better idea of how the prices may vary depending on where you’re selling your scrap lead, the market and scrap yard prices quoted for lead in August and September of 2019 were:
- East Coast:
- Lead wheel weights: $0.394 per pound
- Soft lead: $0.909 per pound
- West Coast:
- Lead wheel weights: $0.396 per pound
- Soft lead: $0.914 per pound
- Lead: $0.45 per pound
- Lead batteries: $0.12 per pound
- Miscellaneous lead: $0.38 per pound
- Plastic cased lead-acid batteries: $0.15 per pound
- New Jersey:
- Lead: $0.47 per pound
- Lead backup batteries: $0.18-$0.25 per pound
- Lead wheel weights: $0.12 per pound
Scrap Prices for Other Common Industrial Metals
While it is not the least expensive metal on the market, lead demands a lower price than many other metals. Gold, platinum, and rhodium are the highest-valued. Average scrap prices for other commonly used industrial metals in 2019 were:
- Bare bright copper wire: $2.56 per pound
- Copper radiators: $1.53 per pound
- Brass: $0.30-$2.07 per pound, depending on the type
- Aluminum MLC (mixed low copper): $0.52 per pound
- 304 (general purpose) stainless steel: $0.53 per pound
Safety Information: Important Precautions for Working With Lead
Lead is a useful substance, but it also poses potentially serious health implications when handled improperly. According to the CDC, high levels of exposure to lead can cause anemia, weakness, and kidney and brain damage; very high exposure can be fatal. Consider some of the common sources of lead exposure:
- Fossil fuels
- Industrial facilities
- Lead-based paint
- Plumbing materials
Many people are unaware that the items they handle may contain lead. The good news is that about three-quarters of refined lead is made from recycled lead. That means less lead is going into landfills and potentially contaminating the surrounding land and water. Still, many people may not know to take certain precautions when handling the material.
An important part of the recycling and scrap process involves separating materials. Using a cutting torch creates temperatures high enough to melt leaded solder and vaporize surface lead, which can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin. HEPA air filtration systems can help reduce exposure to lead, as can removing coatings along cutting lines before cutting. Additionally, using an extended cutting torch means that the object is kept further away from the operator than the use of a standard torch.
Breaking Down Lead Batteries
There are some special considerations for breaking down batteries for recycling. Inside batteries, there are not only lead plates, but also acids contaminated with lead. The lead may be in the form of very small particles, which are easily inhaled. The use of exhaust hoods, as well as personal protective equipment (respirators, gloves, and protective coveralls), help reduce lead exposure during recycling.
Lead residue on tools and work surfaces also presents a potential hazard. Lead dust collects on just about any surface. Never dry sweep potentially contaminated areas. Instead, use a HEPA vacuum followed by washing the surfaces with water and detergent. Finish up by using the vacuum on the surfaces one more time.
As with any potentially dangerous process, we strongly recommend that you do your research thoroughly, have all the proper tools, and understand the risks. If done improperly, working with items containing lead can be a serious hazard to your health. If you have any concerns or questions, please get in touch a professional who can assist you.
Lead is a remarkable substance. When recycled, its quality is nearly identical to “primary lead” obtained directly from mining. It’s easily recoverable, and the rate of lead recycling in North America is close to 100%. Additionally, lead batteries have the highest rate of consumer product recycling among common recyclables.
The lead recycling process involves several steps:
- Lead products are returned to metal dealers, recycling businesses, etc.
- Specialized businesses collect scrap lead and transport them to a smelter
- At the smelter, lead scrap is separated from other substances, smelted, and refined
- The resulting refined, recycled lead is used to create new products
Recycling just about any substance is great for the environment, and this is especially true of recycling lead. Recycling lead:
- Reduces the amount of lead released into the environment
- Conserves natural resources
- Reduces the need for additional mining
- Reduces health and environmental damage
Lead may not be worth as much as scrap platinum, gold, or brass, but it is readily found in an array of common household and industrial products. If you have lead in your possession, you can make money from it by selling it to scrap yards, recycling businesses, and metal dealers. The price you’ll get for lead can vary, but as of this writing, ranged from around $0.15 to $0.90 per pound.