FEBRUARY 2010

Steel recycling rate hits record

The Steel Recycling Institute (SRI) announced that the overall steel recycling rate for the world’s, and America’s, most recycled material – steel – reached a record high of 83.3 percent. This means that more than 82 million tons of domestic steel scrap was charged into furnaces, both in the United States and abroad, to make new steel products to be used by the steel industry’s customers in meeting consumers’ needs.

It is important to note that the steel recycling rates are for 2008. Steel recycling rates are compiled based on data from scrap processors, steel producers, the United States Geological Survey and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, which can take up to a year to compile.

The first three quarters of 2008 marked high levels of production and scrap usage in the United States and that, along with a full-year of high levels of steel scrap exporting, contributed to these record numbers. These high levels of production drew upon record levels of steel scrap, as new steel simply is not made without steel scrap.

“All new steel made in the North America contains a minimum of 28 percent steel scrap with some processes using upwards of 90 percent steel scrap to make new steel,” said Bill Heenan, president of the Steel Recycling Institute (SRI). “Steel continues to be recycled at a higher volume than paper, plastic, glass, copper and aluminum combined, and the steel can still holds the distinction of being food and beverage’s most recycled container.”

More than 1.5 million tons of steel containers were recycled in 2008 at a rate of 65.2 percent, while more than 14.8 million tons of steel were recycled from automobiles at a rate of 106 percent. Recycling rates for automobiles are often near or over 100 percent as older vehicles being recycled are often heavier than new cars, which are more fuel efficient through use of advanced high-strength steels, which are now available to automobile manufacturers.

Appliance recycling rates remained stable at 90 percent as did structural steel at 97.5 percent, while construction reinforcement steel (i.e., rebar) increased slightly to 70 percent. These steel recycling rates accomplish much more than simply saving landfill space. For every ton of steel recycled, 2500 pounds of iron ore, 1400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone are conserved.

Recycling is also key to energy savings and other sustainable benefits. The United States steel industry has been the only major industry to reduce energy demands while still increasing production. In fact, the steel industry has reduced energy consumption by 33 percent since 1990 along with a 45 percent reduction in greenhouse gases per ton since 1975.