What Makes Steel So Recyclable?

Published August 22, 2014 by Whirlwind Team

recycling steelSteel is one of the most recycled material on Earth, bar none. It is recycled at a higher rate than all other materials put together. That is a lot of recycling. Why is steel so recyclable? Let’s find out.

No Degradation

Steel is a metallurgical wonder in that the material does not degrade upon recycling. The steel you put in is the same steel you recycle and reuse. The same durability, the same properties, the same material. Steel can be recycled and reused endlessly. Two of every three tons of steel produced is recycled material.

Recycling Steel is Easy

Scrap metal is cut up into little chunks and magnets easily separate iron and steel from the mix. This leaves other metals and non-metallic materials behind so only the pure steel is melted down and recast.

The primary method of steel recycling is oxygen basic. This reduces the amount of iron ore required to create steel. The secondary method is known as electric arc furnace where 100% scrap metal is used to make new product.

Recycling is Less Expensive

When you consider what goes into mining iron ore plus the other metals and materials that go into making virgin steel, recycling steel makes keen economic sense. Mining is a hazardous profession and hard on the environment. Processing the iron ore into steel introduces another step into production.

Scrap metal, on the other hand, is readily available and merely needs to be separated, melted down, and reused.

Reduces Landfill

Recycling materials keeps them out the landfill and puts them to proper use again. Over 500 million tons of steel are recovered and recycled around the world making a good sized dent in the amount of landfill that could be created. Recycling steel also means that the base materials won’t be mined out anytime soon.

Where Does Scrap Metal Come From?

Scrap metal is categorized into three buckets:

  • Home scrap
  • Prompt scrap
  • Obsolete scrap

Home scrap is waste metal directly from the mill and is available within a few weeks. Prompt scrap is really less prompt than home scrap as it is the waste from fashioning steel products. It can be available within a few months.

Obsolete scrap is the metal from deconstructed buildings and worn out products such as cars and appliances. While this is available in large quantities, it is only sporadically available since it may be decades before a building is demolished or a product comes to the end of its life cycle.

Virgin steel still has a role to play simply because there isn’t enough scrap to go around. Between population growth and the timing of scrap availability virgin steel is still needed for most building and production.

Endnote

Recycling steel is efficient and effective. The resulting material is every bit as strong and useful as the previous incarnation. Since steel is a highly valuable commodity, the ability to reuse it creates an economy of scale not seen in other, less recyclable products. 

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