Steel: The Most Recycled Material

Steel: The Most Recycled Material

Metal can be recycled to construct structural steel components.

When we think of recycling we probably think of aluminum, paper, glass, or plastic, but there is one material that is recycled more often than all these materials combined: Steel.

India was the first country to produce true steel almost 2,500 years ago. Modern mass production of steel has been around since 1850, but if steel were invented today it would be hailed as a modern miracle of science.

Steel, truly, is an amazing material and through recycling efforts, steel manufacturers and steel building contractors help to save the same amount of energy it would take to power 20 million homes for an entire year.

As Mark A. Thimons, a Vice President of the Steel Market Development Institute observed, "Steel is the smartest choice for the design and construction of truly sustainable buildings. The inherent strength and durability of steel products, combined with their ability to be continually recycled, means they meet the very definition of sustainability." 


Where is Steel Found?

It’s safe to say that most of us have been surrounded by steel our entire lives.

Without it, our lives would be difficult to imagine. Take away steel and you’ve taken away things such as cars, trucks, buildings, refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, surgical scalpels, and cargo ships—just to name a few. 


Why Steel is so Easy to Recycle?

One of the reasons steel is so easy to recycle is because of its remarkable magnetic properties. Steel is very easy to separate from other waste products. We’ve all seen videos of huge magnets lifting cars and loading them into crushers. Compare this with the curbside separating and sorting needed for paper, plastic, and glass and it’s easy to identify steel’s recycling advantage.

When steel is recycled, there is no change to its fundamental properties—no matter how many times it’s recycled. 

This means the structural steel in a building is strong and durable whether the steel came straight from pure iron ore, or if it’s been recycled many times.


How Much Steel is Recycled?

630 million tonnes of steel are recycled every year. This represents an annual savings of 950 million tonnes of CO2 emissions—more than the transportation CO2 emissions of Europe. Steel recycling saves energy and is at the forefront of green technology, especially when used in pre-engineered steel buildings

In North America, steel recycling is growing and some steel products contain 90 percent recycled steel. 97 percent of steel by-products (alumina, silica, calcium oxide, magnesium oxide and iron oxide) are re-used. Ceramic and Portland Cement production (carbon-intensive manufacturing processes) use these steel by-products to lower their carbon footprint.


Are Steel Buildings Environmentally Friendly? 

Steel is a sustainable material, contributing to obtaining over 50 LEED points for building owners seeking certification under LEED Canada NC 2009. Additionally, using structural steel components creates little on-site waste because the components used in pre-engineered steel buildings are manufactured to tight tolerances. Any excess waste is easily separated and sent to the recycler.


Learn more by reading the Science Behind Metal Buildings: What Makes Steel So Special.


Metal Structure Concepts is Western Canada’s most trusted source of structural steel and pre-engineered steel buildings. Our professional team designs and installs commercial and industrial steel buildings for agricultural, retail, storage, and more. Contact us for more information or a free estimate for your project.