As the value and importance of copper increases, there are more incidences of people burning copper wiring in the attempt to melt it back into a solid copper form. The demand for copper that is recycled is also increasing, but burning copper wiring is not a safe way of releasing the copper. Metal smelting companies will often recycle copper wire, but this is partially dependent upon the grade.
If you are considering burning your copper wiring to dispose of it or get solid metal copper, then you are likely to be putting yourself and those around you in danger. The risks include breathing in toxic smoke, burns from hot copper, and even the danger of fire due to copper exploding into buildings and trees.
Release of Toxins
The copper wire that is in most homes is protected by a layer of insulation. Some people wish to destroy this insulation by holding the copper wire over a low flame. In factories, this insulation is stripped off in a few minutes due to intense heat provided by an incinerator. However, placing the wire onto a residential fire will lead to low heating destruction of the insulation, which releases toxins like heavy metal particles, dioxins, and other chemicals called furans.
These toxins can lead to, among other things, heavy metal poisoning that can hurt the nervous system, lung infections and inflammations, and even heart problems. Inhaling toxins like dioxins will increase the risk of cancer.
Handling Burnt Copper
Even after the insulation has been burned off of the copper, it is still not safe. Copper wiring will release copper particles, which can cause kidney and lung damage. Copper also retains heat easily, so in handling the copper you are exposing yourself to increased risks of burns. It is possible after all, for campers to start a fire using a battery and a piece of copper wire.
In addition, copper wiring can explode when exposed to heat, causing minor injuries. The copper explodes with such force that even bystanders can be hurt, as well as those directly involved in the heating. The heat of the metal can cause it to set fire to trees, houses, and other items in the vicinity. A blaze caused by copper shards can turn into a major fire accident, particularly during the summer months.
In many states, it is illegal to burn copper wiring, as it is dangerous and can contaminate the ground. Burning copper wire in these states will result in you being arrested and prosecuted, possibly facing a fine of several hundred dollars. The expense is not worth it, as the amount of copper likely to be left is very small and will not amount to more than the cost of the fine. It is much preferable to send your spare copper wire to a recycling center, where it can be treated in a safe and secure manner.
As you can see, burning copper wire comes with many dangers. Remember that burning/soldering can cause chemical reactions!