Steel recycling is vital because it’s a metal that is found all over the place and it can be recycled forever without ever losing strength!
Steel is found in pots, pans, flatware, scalpels and operating room tools, car parts including the roll cage that keeps you safe in an accident, and the fire escape stairs in apartment buildings and hotels.
Let’s do a quick deep dive into the facts you need to know about the benefits of recycling steel!
Environmental Benefits of Recycling Steel
- Saves Natural Resources
- Saves Carbon Dioxide
- Recycled Steel Creates a Closed Loop Market
- Saves Landfill and Junkyard Space
Steel recycling is an easy decision to make because there is no downgrade in the quality of the material.
Steel can be recycled forever.
1. Steel Recycling Saves Natural Resources
For every ton of steel recycled the following natural resources are saved.
- 40 pounds of limestone
- 1,000 pounds of coal
- 3,000 pounds of iron ore
- 24,800 gallons of water
By recycling tin we can reduce the need for raw material which reduces mining and its associated pollution.
The advantages of recycling steel are even better when you consider the savings of fossil fuel, water, and carbon dioxide through the reduction of ore mining.
2. Steel Recycling Saves Carbon Dioxide
Carbon dioxide is produced during the mining, processing, and transportation of ores. It’s also produced during steel production, mainly due to the energy requirements to manufacture steel.
According to Recycling Magazine, these are the carbon savings for every ton of steel scrap that’s used.
- For every ton of recycled carbon steel, 1.67 tons of carbon dioxide are saved from the atmosphere.
- For every ton of recycled stainless steel, 4.3 tons of carbon dioxide are saved from the atmosphere.
Carbon dioxide savings are vital because carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas that is mainly responsible for climate change.
Carbon dioxide molecules destroy ozone molecules. This decreases the thickness of the ozone layer which keeps ultraviolet rays from getting through our atmosphere.
The more UV rays get through, the hotter it gets down here on planet earth. So, any way that we can keep carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere is a win.
3. Recycled Steel Creates a Closed Loop Market
Steel is a perfect material for continuous recycling because it retains its quality after recycling.
Steel is just as hard and durable after recycling as it was before. That means it’s worth top dollar, and perfect for use in any application.
This makes the development of a closed-loop market for steel a real possibility.
60% of the steel used is recycled every year, with the biggest recyclers being the construction industry.
A lot of that steel won’t come back into the market through recycling, and here’s why.
- A lot of steel products are made for longevity. Everything from utensils to steel joists are made to last for decades.
- Steel rebar and other construction materials will be buried or used for many decades before recovery is possible.
- Many steel goods are household items that people don’t think to recycle. A lot of it gets thrifted or thrown away instead of recycling.
Because of this difference between production and age to recycling, most steel products won’t see recycling for a long time so production of raw materials is going strong.
However, as attention turns to our dwindling natural resources there will have to be a more concerted effort to recover steel before it can hit the landfill.
Check out this video that shows the steps used to recycle the steel in a vehicle into steel rods.
4. Saves Landfill and Junkyard Space
We’ve all seen the vehicle junkyards full of rusting metal and tires. It’s a shame because steel, aluminum, and rubber are recyclable!
When old cars, appliances, pots, pans, and even utensils are thrown away they sit contaminating the environment for generations.
EPA data shows that in 2018 alone, about 10.5 million tons of steel were thrown into landfills.
This yearly waste is a tragedy because the metal is recyclable and the raw materials used to make them are non-renewable. This is one example of natural resources that we must recycle or we’ll run out.
Instead, they could be recycled for metal components and given a new and valuable life!
How to Recycle Steel
There are several ways you can recycle steel.
- Small steel items like clean, empty steel cans can be tossed into your commingled recycling bin.
- Steel cans can be recycled with other cans to be separated at the recycling facility.
- Larger pieces of steel scrap, especially cars, can be recycled at drop-off locations. Many steel recyclers will purchase the car from you.
- Appliances can be brought to a landfill for recycling. They’ll usually charge you a fee because the appliance has to be carefully disassembled to avoid releasing carbons and refrigerants into the atmosphere.
Once steel is collected it is brought to a steel foundry where it’s compacted then shredded and melted at around 3,000 degrees F.
The molten metal is usually purified using electrolysis which attracts impurities and ensures that the resulting steel is pure.
The purified steel is cooled and formed into sheets that are ready for sale. This process can happen over and over again creating a circular steel economy.
A lot of us don’t pay attention to steel recycling aside from the odd steel can we might find to recycle.
However, in the construction industry, steel recycling is at about 98%. That’s a great number, and it helps the US steel industry to make immense strides in sustainability.
The two main benefits of recycling steel are that it saves non-renewable natural resources and results in a metal that is just as good as it was before.