How Recycled Steel Helps the Planet

Recycled steel benefits industry and the environment

Recycling at all levels is beneficial to the environment, but nowhere are the benefits more pronounced than with the recycling of a steel.

The recycling rate for steel is a staggering 88 percent, according to industry site steel.org, making it the most recycled product on the planet. A lot of this can be attributed to steel’s strength, which does not diminish after it is recycled.

The metallurgical components of steel make it the perfect choice for recycling. It can be shifted from one use to another and its tensile strength remains the same as when it was first forged.

Because of these properties, the use of steel is far reaching, from skyscrapers and bridges to quality steel knives and industrial machinery.

How steel is recycled

Steel typically consists of iron alloys combined with carbon. Depending on the type of steel, it can include manganese, nickel and chromium, among other elements.

Recycled steel generally is broken down into three main categories:

  • Home scrap, which is scrap produced at the steel mill.
  • Prompt scrap, which is scrap produced while manufacturing products from steel
  • Obsolete scrap, which is scrap produced from steel products as they near the end of their lives (old bridges and buildings, for example)

There are large amounts of steel in all three categories, although the first two produce the most. While two out of every three tons of steel produced now comes from old steel, new steel is still needed because so many steel products remain in use for decades and the demand for steel worldwide continues to grow.

How recycled steel helps the environment

Here are some of the ways the large amounts of recycled steel have helped sustainability, according to steel.org.

  • Reduced the need for raw materials: The amount of raw materials – iron and the other alloys – used to make steel have been reduced by 21 percent since the 1980s. Recycling efforts reduced the amount of carbon emissions into the atmosphere by 1.12 billion tons in 2008 alone. That is a major contribution to reducing greenhouse gases.
  • Thinner steel: In addition to using recycled materials, the steel industry has developed thinner steel that maintains the same amount of strength but weighs much less. This steel, used in automobiles, helps reduce the mass of cars and also helps with cutting carbon emissions.
  • Reduced energy use in steel production: The development of better recycled material has helped reduce the amount of energy needed to produce a ton of steel by 50% since the 1970s.

According to NLL Recycling, the use of recycled steel helps the environment in many different ways. For example, they report that one ton of recycled steel saves 1.5 tons of iron ore and a half a ton of coal, as well as leading to a 75 percent reduction in the energy used in steel production and an 86 percent reduction in air pollution.

Clearly, steel is one of those products that not only works well, but is also a perfect fit for being recycled. Thanks in part to a steel industry that has adapted to the need for sustainability and recycled goods, the uses of steel continues to flourish even as the awareness of environmental concerns grows.

Image credit: Jeremy Levine, courtesy flickr 

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Thomas Schueneman
EditorThomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
EditorThomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
EditorThomas Schueneman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
EditorGina-Marie Cheeseman