Steel is one of the most utilized metals in the world, making up everything from the tallest skyscrapers to your everyday kitchen utensils. Steel has driven technological growth and advancement through the Industrial Age and continues to fuel innovation today, with over 1,950,500,000 tonnes produced in 2021 alone.
Steel is an iron alloy, meaning it is made up of a combination of metals and non-metals including carbon, iron, and tin. Like most metals, including aluminum, copper, and brass, steel can be continuously recycled without any damage or degradation to its properties—no matter the product or form it takes.
In fact, steel tops the list of North America’s most recycled materials, with over 60 percent of steel being recycled annually since 1970. Steel’s production by-products also has a high rate of recycling, with 90 percent of the co-products used in steel production—including slag, water, gas, and dust—also being reused or recycled.
This is extremely good news as it relates to steel’s environmental impact and its preservation of our earth’s natural resources. Steel recycling also has a financial imperative for its consumers; not to mention the costs saved for those on the production side.
In this article, we will cover the basics of steel recycling and talk through its wide-reaching benefits—both environmental and financial. But first, let’s go over the different types of steel, and how it can be sorted for recycling.
Types of Steel Recyclables: Steel vs. Stainless Steel
As reflected in its various purposes, there are multiple types of steel found in steel-based products. The most common variation of steel is known as stainless steel.
The difference between steel and stainless steel is its magnetic properties. Steel itself is highly magnetized, while only certain types of stainless steel hold magnetic properties. This is because steel is a ferrous metal, meaning it contains iron (making it ferromagnetic); whereas stainless steel must contain iron, and the crystal structure of the alloy must be martensitic or ferritic in order to be magnetic.
Stainless steel is known to resist corrosion and hold a slightly higher melting point than other steels. That is why it is typically used in products such as healthcare equipment, food production, cars, and construction projects. Steel, on the other hand, will more commonly be found in household products such as hangers and appliances.
Both steel and stainless steel are recyclable, but it’s still a valuable exercise to separate them due to the potential difference in price and ultimate worth.
The Steel Recycling Process
While it is true that all forms of steel are recyclable, it’s important to note that the recycling process differs from many other products. This is due to the inherent value of steel—instead of being sent to a landfill or traditional recycling center, steel products will be sold to a scrap yard for compensation.
There are three main sources of steel scrap that is sold to scrap yards: Home Scrap, Prompt or Industrial Scrap, and Obsolete Scrap.
- Home Scrap: Home scrap is steel waste that occurs in-house in steel mills through the production of steel. This includes trimmings and reject scraps of steel. This does not typically have to be collected or purchased, as it is usually redirected back into the furnace.
- Prompt (Industrial) Scrap: Prompt scrap is a result of product manufacturing in areas such as automotive and appliances. Excess steel from these warehouses and factories are auctioned and sold to scrap buyers, usually at a premium.
- Obsolete Scrap: Obsolete scrap covers the rest of steel waste, stemming from areas such as individual household appliances, old cars that are sent to a junkyard, office, and household waste. This category can also extend to include old junked buildings or structures that are sent to a junkyard and recovered for their steel elements.
After being collected by scrappers in person, at designated drop-offs, or at buy-back centers, steel scrap is then sorted and sent out to mills or foundries.
The excess steel scrap is then melted down by a furnace that runs at a temperature of nearly 3,000 degrees, and purified to rid the scrap of any contaminants. Then, the melted steel is solidified into sheets and prepped for shipping.
The newly recycled metal is then ready to be sent out to various factories for use as raw material, and the cycle begins again.
The Environmental Impact of Steel Recycling
As previously mentioned, steel has an extremely high turnover rate of recycled products—in both the steel itself and byproducts used in its production process.
Nearly 69 percent of steel is recycled in the U.S. each year, and that number grows when looking at specific steel goods.
In the end, steel recycling efforts save 75 percent of the overall energy used in production from raw materials. This has huge benefits in the fight to save natural resources, and prevent excess greenhouse gas emissions.
The Economic Impact of Steel Recycling
When using recycled materials for production, manufacturers drastically reduce the price of production costs. Steel allows for the use of completely reused materials instead of going through the costly procedure of extracting raw ore from the ground.
The recycling process in the steel industry also drives job creation—producing over 531,000 jobs in scrap recycling and resulting in over $110 billion in economic activity, according to the American Iron and Steel Institute.
How Much Is Scrap Steel Worth?
Selling scrap metal is a lucrative practice for businesses, manufacturers, and individuals alike. By participating in the earth-saving recycling process, you are also rewarded financially for your materials.
Many larger businesses or manufacturers that produce steel as a byproduct of their daily processes can take advantage of the selling-power of steel.
The average price of recycled steel in 2022 was:
- Stainless steel: $0.34/lb
- Shredded steel: $$162/ton
- Heavy melting steel (HMS) 1: $187/ton
- Rotors: $208/ton
Rubicon’s Steel Recycling Solution
Rubicon’s mission is to end waste, in all of its forms. This includes metals like steel—where proper recycling can bring economic and sustainable benefits to your company.
We work to help businesses, both large and small, find appropriate recycling solutions for all of their waste streams in order to keep as much material out of landfills as possible. For many organizations, organizing your steel waste, developing a collection plan, and negotiating a fair steel recycling price can become a time-consuming exercise. This is where we come in.
Our commodity metal recycling experts at Rubicon® can work with your organization to put a cost-effective steel recycling solution in place that will ensure you get the maximum value out of your scrap steel, while at the same keeping this precious material out of landfills. Metal markets vary, with the resale prices fluctuating like the stock market. Rubicon helps monitor market values and will make sure you’re always getting the most for your scrap metals.
At Rubicon, we are experts at creating steel recycling solutions for businesses, as well as plans for incorporating other metals such as aluminum, copper, and iron.
If you have any questions, or you’re interested in learning more about Rubicon’s sustainability offerings, please reach out to Rubicon’s Circular Solutions team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact our sales team at (844) 479-1507.
Donovan Bennett is a Waste Diversion Manager at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.