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How Environmentally Friendly and Recyclable is Steel?



If you made a list of things that evoke environmental friendliness, steel probably wouldn’t be on there. Metal as a whole gets a bad rep when it comes to being green. Though many machines that can harm the environment are made of metal, metal itself is quite innocent.

After all, many common metals are naturally occurring elements found in the earth, and the remaining metals are made with combinations of those.

Steel, for example, is an alloy made almost entirely of iron.

Then again, it takes work to make that iron into steel, and that process results in carbon dioxide and waste. So just have eco-friendly is steel?

Waste from Steel Manufacturing

The biggest bi-product of steel is slag, a rocky-metal-ish substance. While this was once seen as simple waste, slag is almost entirely repurposed today. After the steel creation process is finished, the slag is gathered and sold mostly to construction companies, where it’s used in cement.

Effects of Steel on Water

Water is used heavily during the steel making process, predominantly for cooling purposes, as well as descaling and cleaning. This water does get filled with various particles, especially coke. However, almost all of this can be removed through a filtration process, making 98% of the water reusable/recyclable.

The majority of water that is lost is due to evaporation from the cooling process.

Recyclability of Steel

Steel is a highly recyclable material for many reasons. Because of its unique magnetic property, it’s easy to remove from waste streams. This helps make steel (and iron) the most recycled material in the world.

But the best part of recycling steel is that steel doesn’t experience downgrading. In other words, any type of steel can be recycled over and over again and still be used to make the highest-quality of steel.

Ultimately, 42% of crude steel that’s produced is from recycled material. An electric arc furnace (EAF) method of steel production can use exclusively recycled steel.

Air Pollution

One area that steel manufacturers have received criticism for is for air pollution/carbon emissions. However, this has changed considerably in recent years. Both energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions have decreased by half since the 1960s. Dust emissions have been reduced even more.

And industry specialists are working towards reducing these numbers even further moving forward.

Steel is an incredible asset to modern civilization, from skyscrapers on down to welded rings. Thankfully, it’s pretty easy on the planet too.


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