recycling scrap ammo

Recycling Scrap Ammo

Recycling ammunition may seem complicated or maybe you never even knew it was possible, but reducing waste and potentially hazardous products from our environment is possible, and may even be profitable!

The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that 2 billion rounds of spent brass cartridge cases are created each year in the US alone! Recycling ammunition is not only great for the environment, but it’s safer for all. All of that brass is not only very recyclable, it’s also worth more than just a few pennies. Whether you’re wondering how to properly and safely dispose of spent ammo or curious about how to make some extra money recycling your brass shell casings, we have all the details and answers to your ammo recycling questions.  

We will cover all types of scrap ammo, which includes: old, depleted, corroding, or otherwise damaged bullets, spent ammunition, duds that didn’t fire, and unused live rounds. This article will also explain the different ways each should be handled.

Where Can I Recycle Scrap Ammo Near Me?

Local Scrap Metal Recyclers

A local scrap metal recycling company that accepts scrap ammo is the best option if you want to sell scrap ammunition rather than simply drop it off or dispose of it properly. Call ahead and check that they accept the particular type of ammo you are looking to recycle and confirm their payout price. Bullets are usually recycled separately from brass shell casings, so sort any bullets from your brass casings beforehand. Check with the recycling center because they may accept your bullets as well. 

Hazardous Waste Collection

Scrap ammo is accepted at some hazardous waste facilities, but most will not accept any type of explosives, including ammo. Check with your city or county HHW to determine if they will recycle ammunition.

How Much Are Brass Shell Casings Worth?

$2.00 per pound is the current average payout price for brass shells, which is close to brass plumbing pipes. You would need large amounts of brass shells to turn a large profit, but most metal recycling facilities will gladly accept your empty brass shells and casings.

recycle brass shell casings

Since brass holds a fairly decent value, brass shell casings are the most commonly recycled scrap ammo. Recycling brass shells helps lower the need for new raw materials. Brass, like glass and other metals, can be recycled indefinitely. 

How to Prep Ammunition for Recycling

Sort Your Scrap Ammo

Sort your ammo before recycling to get the correct cash payout and best prices for each type. Separate your lot of ammunition into different boxes or one-gallon Ziploc bags by type:

  • Shotgun shells
  • Brass shells
  • Nickel-plated brass
  • Aluminum
  • Steel casings
  • Range Lead

Clean and Dry Ammo

Before taking in your scrap ammo, you should wash and thoroughly dry your casings to make sure there is no powder residue or dirt left behind. Even a small amount of residue can become a hazard with the tiniest of sparks. Most facilities won’t accept your recyclables if they see any gunpowder residue.

Why Recycle Scrap Ammo?

Scrap ammo contains harmful materials such as lead and sulfur among other dangerous chemicals. Recycling prevents those hazardous materials from contaminating our environment and ground water supply. It also helps to conserve precious resources since the materials can be remade into new ammo or other needed materials. This benefits everyone since less raw material needs to be mined, processed and manufactured. We should all be doing our part to keep harmful chemicals out of our landfills whenever possible. 

Scrap ammunition thrown in the trash can pollute the soil and groundwater and harm local wildlife. Another danger is that any unspent ammo may explode from even a small spark. This can cause injury, death, or property damage in the worst cases. 

What are the Benefits of Recycling Scrap Ammo?

Conserving Metal

Ammo contains brass, aluminum, steel, nickel, and lead that can be recycled. We want to conserve these valuable resources whenever possible and lower the need for new raw materials which require more energy to produce. Recycling helps us conserve more of these precious resources, which benefits all of us. 

The Reuse of Ammunition

The metals and various materials in scrap ammo are reusable, which means recycling will reduce the need for new materials. So recycling reduces waste, protects the environment, and conserves resources. These materials can be used to create new ammunition and other products. 

Where to Dispose of Live Ammo

Live ammo can be taken to your local police station, gun range, or gun shop. This will vary depending on your city, county, and state, so contact them for details on the proper procedure before showing up.

dispose of scrap ammo at police station, shooting range, or gun gun shop.

Police Stations

Most police stations will accept a reasonable amount of ammo for proper disposal and recycling. You should call your police station’s non-emergency line and ask if they accept ammunition. If they don’t or cannot accept the amount or type you have, they will have information about other locations or options for proper disposal. 

Gun Ranges

Another location for ammunition disposal is a local gun range. It is fairly common for a shooting gallery to accept different sorts of bullets that you no longer want or need. They may even have a type of recycling program in place. If an indoor gun range doesn’t, they should know of a recycling facility that will accept your scrap ammunition.

Local Gun Stores

You can also try your local gun shop for information on how to safely dispose of unused or spent shells and bullets. The personnel of your local gun shop are usually pretty knowledgeable about how to handle ammunition, identify between good and degraded ammo, and may even accept a small amount from you for proper disposal. It’s good policy to call ahead first before bringing ammo in and assuming they will accept it. 

Safety Precautions When Handling Ammo

Some basic safety precautions regarding handling ammunition before prepping and recycling your ammo.

Never mix spent ammo with live ammunition.

Live ammunition or unspent bullets cannot be recycled and should be handled with caution. It can be a dangerous hazard for anyone to handle rounds that may contain live ammo, so they should never be mixed together with empty shells. 

Corroded bullets should be handled with care. These bullets are extremely dangerous to fire as they can rupture and shoot hot gases back through the firearm in the direction of the handler. For this reason, corroded ammunition should not be used, but it can’t just be tossed in the trash or disposed of improperly.

Components of Ammunition

Diagram of an ammunition cartridge
Components of an Ammunition Cartridge

A quick explanation of the components of ammunition for clarity when discussing recycling. 

  1. Projectile: this is often referred to as the bullet, but it can also be a slug or shot. This part usually contains a metal like steel or lead. 
  2. Cartridge/Casing: the casing can be made of brass, aluminum, steel, copper, or plastic polymers. In the case of a shotgun, this is referred to as a shell casing.
  3. Gunpowder: a mixture of charcoal, saltpeter, and sulfur makes up the explosive mixture of gunpowder.
  4. Primer: this is what ignites the propellant and they usually contain lead.
  5. Wad: this only pertains to shotguns and it separates the powder from the slug. It is usually made of plastic. 

The portion of ammunition that is being discussed in regards to recycling is the empty casing of spent bullets. In a live round, the casing is what holds the primer, gunpowder, and bullet. The casing or cartridge can be made from brass, aluminum, or steel. Inside of the casing of a live bullet there will be a propellant substance (smokeless powder or black powder), an ignition device (primer), and the bullet or projectile. 

What are the Dangers of Disposing of Scrap Ammo Improperly?

Bullets and Powder Contain Harmful Chemicals

Both bullets and gunpowder are considered hazardous. When they aren’t disposed of properly, that waste can contaminate the soil and water, harming both humans and animals. While throwing bullets or shells into the trash may not be technically illegal, it is not advised. 

Risk of Scrap Ammo Ignition

Bullets with any black powder residue can be a fire hazard, which can cause injuries, property damage, or even wildfires. It only takes the smallest spark for the ignition of gunpowder, which can potentially cause a lot of damage. 

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