When is silver recycling worthwhile?

As many believe that only recycling gold is worthwhile, another precious metal, silver, is often neglected, and the numbers reflect this.

In Germany alone, there are around 52,000 tons of silver in circulation – mostly in jewelry, table silver or coins – and it is assumed that silver mines will only last for up to 30 years with current production volumes. Since there is increasing demand for silver in the industry, it is essential to also recycle this precious metal and bring it back into the resource cycle. Recycling is, therefore, becoming increasingly important.

Silver owners can benefit immensely from their old silver but are often unaware of how to proceed, or which path could be the most profitable.

Not all old silver is the same …

… at least when it comes to recycling. A distinction is made between silverware (jugs, cups, plates, cutlery etc.), old jewelry and coins/bars. Silver is also found in technical devices or even X-rays, but, in the latter, the silver content is very low, so large amounts of scrap equipment are needed to guarantee that the process is worthwhile for all involved. Consequently, we only consider the following categories:

  • Silver in jewelry

Silver jewelry is always trending. Since silver is cheaper than gold, it is no wonder that more silver than gold jewelry ends up in jewelry boxes, but what do you do with silver jewelry that you no longer wear? You can keep it or, by selling it for recycling purposes, bring it back into the resource cycle.

  • Silver in coins/bars

With silver coins or silver bars, it is easy to determine what the current value of the silver is by weighing the items and calculating the value based on the current silver price. Sometimes, it is worth doing research on the Internet for bars or coins with collector’s value, which achieve a higher price than the material value.

  • Silver in cutlery

In the past, cutlery was a must for every middle-class house, so it’s no wonder that quite a bit of silver cutlery is still in circulation today. However, as cutlery made of stainless steel has long since conquered households due to its easy-care properties and low price, silver cutlery acquired from inheritances, flea markets or household liquidations should be carefully examined to determine if it is real silver.

How is the value of a silver item determined?

As with gold objects, the silver content is indicated by a hallmark. The silver hallmark indicates the purity of the silver alloy. As a private individual, the silver item can be weighed and the material value calculated based on the hallmark, but precious metal dealers have XRF devices that can provide more precise information.
When buying in gold and silver refineries, the silver content is determined by means of titration, which is a method of quantitative analysis used in chemistry.

Different types of silver

As silver combines very well with other metals, well-known silver alloys have come onto the market over the centuries, including:

  • Fine silver – silver 999

Fine silver has the highest degree of purity with 99.9% silver, which is why most silver bars and investment coins are made from fine silver.

  • Britannia silver – silver 958

This hallmark is often found on silver cutlery. Britannia silver consists of 95.8% silver and 4.2% copper.

  • Sterling silver – silver 925

Sterling silver plays an important role in jewelry making because with 92.5% silver and 7.5% other alloy metals, sterling silver is no longer as soft as fine silver and can be easily processed into silver jewelry.

  • There is also the term „nickel silver“.

However, caution should be exercised with this term as German “nickel silver” does not contain silver; it’s simply a copper-nickel-zinc alloy that looks very similar to silver.

Why it is advantageous to sort silver scrap in advance

The same process sequence applies to all of areas: melting, analyzing, cutting, but it makes sense to sort the old silver according to the three categories listed above before melting it.

Take silver cutlery for example. While forks and spoons are made entirely of silver in the hallmarked alloy, this only applies to the handle of the knife. The blade is made of stainless steel, which has a much higher melting point than silver. It must, therefore, be removed before the handle goes into the melt. 

In addition, the handle is filled with sand, putty or lead. Lead is one of the pollutants that cannot be delivered according to the list of contaminants because lead melts at 327.5 ° C and can lead to severe poisoning through human contact or inhalation. The knives must, therefore, be sorted out and treated separately, which, of course, delays the processing time. Consequently, if knives can be separated and only the silver-containing handles are sent to the gold and silver refinery, the silver scrap will be processed faster and cheaper.

With old jewelry there is also the problem of contaminants. In the past, solder containing cadmium or lead was used in jewelry production. Like lead, cadmium is an interfering substance. It was not until July 2006 that the EU strictly regulated the use of lead in accordance with the RoHS guidelines and in 2011 of cadmium in solders, as both substances are harmful to health. Old jewelry with scrap containing cadmium or lead must therefore be treated separately, which incurs additional costs. The more solder points or seams the body material has, the greater the probability that the named contaminants will be found.Therefore, silver scrap should be pre-sorted according to the categories of old jewelry, coins and/or silverware which is then melted separately at a gold and silver refinery. Through doing so, the environment is protected and the process and payment are ensured to move quickly.

So, when is silver recycling worthwhile?

For precious metal buyers, the recycling of silver is particularly worthwhile if the scrap arrives at the gold and silver refinery pre-sorted.

Private individuals can benefit from the current high silver prices instead of storing silver goods at home.In any case, silver recycling is worthwhile for the environment because instead of transporting new silver, the raw materials that are already available can be used.

Do you have any questions? Please contact our staff at +49 (0)7044 90 333 888. 
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