Category: White Paper

Obsolete Scrap Chapter for Book

A scrap chapter I wrote to augment an overall recycling chapter of a book:

3.2 Obsolete Scrap

Obsolete scrap—frequently referred to as post-consumer scrap—is any steel item recovered after reaching the end of its useful life.

Examples include steel recovered through the shredding of used cars and appliances, cans collected through curbside pickup or recycling centers, and structural beams or plates recovered from the construction or demolition of buildings and bridges.

Obsolete scrap is an extremely diverse category and presents a wide variety of challenges to recycling.

3.2.1 Municipal Waste Stream

The municipal solid waste stream contains a large amount of valuable steel scrap that is currently accepted in more than 90 percent of curbside and drop-off recycling programs. The vast majority of this scrap is from steel packaging.

Steel cans that are collected through curbside and drop off programs are transferred to Material Recovery Facilities where they are easily, magnetically separated from other materials. Steel from municipal waste can also be sourced from waste-to-energy facilities, where mixed wastes are incinerated as a source of energy, and the remaining, ferrous scrap can be magnetically separated for recycling.

Other sources of steel scrap, such as empty, steel aerosol cans, are being accepted in an increasing number of recycling programs. While, other, more challenged sources of steel scrap, such as box springs, electronics and furniture are still working to advance efficient solutions.

3.2.2 Appliances

Each year, approximately 90 percent of out-of-service appliances are recycled for their iron and steel content. This is due to the fact that appliances are simply too large to be landfilled. As a result, most appliances are collected by retailers as new appliances are delivered or by local, independent scrap haulers that collect ferrous materials for profit. According to the Association of home Appliance Manufacturers the average appliance contains about 100 pounds of recyclable steel. Scrap processors collect refrigerants and remove any switches required by law, then appliances are fed into large shredders, which tear appliances into fist-sized chunks of material, where the ferrous portions are magnetically separated for recycling.

3.2.3 Automotive

More than 14 million tons of shredded steel are recovered in a typical year from shredded automobiles. Because they are nearly 60 percent steel, cars have become the most recycled product in the world.

Nearly 100 percent of out-of-service automobiles are sold to scrap processors for recycling. These scrap processors, drain the fluids, catalog and separate any reusable parts for resale, and then crush the remaining auto hulk to be fed into a shredder.

Like appliances, automobile hulks are fed into shredders, where in less than 45 seconds, they are reduced into fist-sized chunks of material. Ferrous material is again easily separated by magnets from the other materials.

3.2.4 Containers

Since 1988, when the North American steel industry first focused efforts on growing steel can recycling, the recycling rate for packaging has grown from 15 percent to now more than 70 percent of steel packaging recycled each year.

Steel packaging is now routinely recycled from residential, restaurants and institutional establishments alike. Cans, collected for recycling, are shipped along with other recyclables to a material recovery facility (MRF). At the MRF, the steel cans are magnetically separated from the other recyclables, crushed into large bales, and then shipped to steel mills or foundries for recycling.

3.2.5 Construction and Demolition Scrap

Construction is the largest, general market for steel. Likewise, at the end-of-life these steel structures become the largest general source of steel scrap. The construction market embraces a wide variety of applications from light-gauge framing and reinforcement up to large skyscrapers, bridges and other infrastructure, including oil rigs, pipelines, culverts and water transmission. Demolition contractors well understand the economics of recycling and actively build the recycling of steel scrap into each project. As a result, more than 95 percent of large, structural steel is captured for recycling each year. Some structural, such as that in underground pilings can be difficult to recover for recycling.

Rebar is a common example of reinforcement steel and is integral to concrete flooring and providing structural integrity to other supporting materials.

The recycling of these support materials is reliant upon the recycling of the surrounding material. Steel rebar is collected for recycling as concrete is chipped or processed for recycling. As a result, the recycling rate for support steel is typically around 70 percent.

3.2.6 Opportunities for Growth

Even while steel is the most recycled material in the world, there is still opportunity to collect even more scrap. Tremendous developments have taken place in scrap processing that utilize computerized separation technology, providing a wide variety of options.

Parallel with these advancements, work continues to attract traditionally “challenged” sources of steel scrap—steel scrap that is trapped, or attached, to other materials or was difficult for traditional materials.

Examples of sources of steel scrap that are becoming increasingly available to the steel industry are steel belts and wires from recycled tires, mattress springs, used oil filters from homes and shops, spring and mechanical assemblies from furniture among others. As these sources of steel scrap are becoming efficiently separated and the grades of steel are sorted appropriately, these sources will also be readily recycled by industry steel furnaces.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries annually publishes a scrap circular which details the types of steel that are permitted within each type of scrap bale.

A Response to Recycling Study

A Response from the Steel Recycling Institute to
“Understanding Steel Recovery and Recycling Rates & Limitations to Recycling”
Published by Dovetail Partners. Inc. 23 March 2015

By: Jim Woods Sr. Director of Sustainability Communications for the American Iron and Steel Institute

Executive Summary:
For nearly as long as the industry has been making steel, it has also been recycling steel. Steel recycling is sustainability in its most simple form. Environmentally, the recycling of steel scrap offsets the need for valued raw materials. Socially, the recycling of steel scrap keeps an important resource out of our nation’s landfills and provides a detailed roadmap for end-of-life scenarios. Economically, steel scrap offsets the costs associated with energy consumption and procurement of natural resources. Therefore, it is across-the-board, good business to recycle steel.

To accurately, and credibly, quantify the rates of steel scrap consumption, each year, the Steel Recycling Institute (SRI) works with mills, associations, industry customers and manufacturers to publish annual steel recycling rates.

Dovetail Partners (Dovetail) have published a paper, “Understanding Steel Recovery and Recycling Rates & Limitations to Recycling” on 21 March 2015. This paper was intended to identify inconsistencies in reporting of recycling rates and identify opportunities for increasing diversion of steel scrap to steel mills.

SRI shares Dovetail’s expressed vision of maximizing the volume of steel scrap and acknowledges the diversity of calculations by associations and reporting entities based on the scope of their individual functions. However, the paper, published by Dovetail, seems to indicate intent to inflate recycling rates through specific omissions or other practice. This response will clarify misunderstandings that have been communicated through the Dovetail paper.

Defining Recycling:

By Dovetail’s own explanation, “recycling reduces the need for resource extraction, typically requires far less energy consumption than when processing virgin raw materials, and results in lower emissions and other environmental impacts.”

The SRI fully embraces this as the goal and outcome of recycling steel scrap and therefore defines its recycling accomplishments through the conversion of steel scrap into new steel, which reduces the need for resource extraction, requires less energy consumption and results in lower emissions.

Calculations of recycling rates for other materials may include initial diversion rates from waste streams to material recovery facilities. However, certain materials have thresholds for contamination which result in the unfortunate landfill of products that do not meet this threshold. With steel, however, items, including labels, are quickly melted away, becoming fuel to the recycling process. And, while home (runaround) scrap, internal to mills, and new (prompt) scrap are of specific, known chemical composition, Dovetail is correct in identifying the diversity of products and composition that come in as old (obsolete) steel scrap.

Predictable Chemistry of Old (Obsolete) Steel Scrap:

Fortunately, in the case of old (obsolete) scrap, the steel industry has a very long, and close working relationship, with scrap processors. The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries produces a highly detailed Scrap Circular Specifications which specifies the grades, and types, of steel scrap that can be included in specific types of bales—greatly increasing the efficiency and predictable chemistry of bales to be consumed by the steel industry in lieu of virgin resources.

Therefore, while dirt and other non-ferrous elements may end up as part of scrap bales, these predicted tolerances are accounted for in the steel recycling process and have only a small, finite impact on the efficiency of the recycling of old (obsolete) steel scrap. And, many of these impurities quickly become slag, which as a co-product of the steel making process, is also recycled into a coveted ingredient for the making of concrete. In fact, up to 96 percent of steel making byproducts, including water, slag, gasses and heat are all recycled during the steelmaking process.

Recycled Content:

As the Dovetail paper accurately portrays, there is a distinction between recycled content and the recycling rates. Inherently, recycled content refers to the ratio of steel scrap used to the volume of virgin material. The tolerances for recycled content are defined through the specifications for the specific grades of steel being produces. And, as indicated in the paper, the tolerance for recycled content is inherent to the steelmaking process used to produce the steel. There are two main processes for steelmaking used in the United States—the Basic Oxygen Furnace (BOF) and the Electric Arc Furnace (EAF).

The BOF process uses 20 to 35 percent recycled content to make new. It produces products—such as automotive fenders, encasements of refrigerators, and packaging like soup cans, five-gallon pails, and 55-gallon drums.

The EAF process uses more than 80 percent recycled content to make new. It produces products—such as structural beams, steel plates, and reinforcement bars.

Understanding the differences in the grades of steel produced by these processes, it is important to understand that these are complimentary processes, since steel has an open loop among steel products. Therefore, cans are able to be recycled into cars or construction materials, and vice versa. And, as recycling rates indicate, both processes are needed to ensure continued balance between production of steel and scrap availability.

Recycling Rates:

Steel recycling rates, which are at the center of the discussion in the Dovetail paper are complex calculations for the overall recycling of steel scrap, as well as collaborative, market-based calculations for core steel markets, including packaging, automobiles and construction materials.

At their most basic, steel recycling rates calculate steel scrap consumed in lieu of natural resources for steelmaking against new steel entering the market—based on a market-neutral calculation. Like the steel recycling process itself, steel markets are mature, relatively stable markets. And, by the nature of steel, and the myriad product profile steel represents, steel’s time in the marketplace is long and varied.

While a predicted “lifetime” of automobiles and appliances may be around a decade, and construction products can be seen as five decades. The reality is, through reuse of car doors and other parts, the existence of ‘classic cars’, the long-standing nature of iconic structures, like the Golden Gate Bridge or the Empire State Building, steel products have a long, varied life span.

In addition, as the Dovetail paper cites, in the Damath 2010 study there is more than one billion tons of steel scrap “in inventory.” This means, not only are there products where actual lifetime well exceeds typical projections, but there is also a significant inventory of steel scrap at our nation’s more than 2,000 scrap processors that is waiting for conditions to be processed and sold to steel companies. Vast inventories of cars and appliances sit, waiting to have their reusable parts re-sold and put back into the market for an extended lifetime.

While, as the Dovetail paper acknowledges, there are discarded products, or un-obtainable sources of steel scrap—such as underground piping that simply cannot be recycled due to a barrier of some sort, taking a market-neutral approach in calculating steel recycling rates accounts for both scrap “in inventory” and ultimately unobtainable steel scrap.

With established, mature markets, and the understanding of the “scrap in inventory” material flow, a market neutral approach is justified and credible.  A market-neutral approach examines the flow of grades of steel being produced and entering the market vs. the grades of steel scrap that are being consumed from that market. This market-neutral approach, comparing the scrap consumed for steelmaking against new steel production, therefore accounts for scrap in inventory and unobtainable steel scrap.

The American Iron and Steel Institute Annual (AISI) Statistical Report and member Energy Survey are primary data sources for the calculation of steel recycling rates. These reports are generated from AISI member data, which represent the majority of steelmaking capacity in North America. This data is combined with data from the U.S. Geological Survey data, which tracks the import and export of steel scrap, which also contribute to the overall steel recycling rate.

For the individual, product-specific market recycling rates, specific grades of steel production and steel scrap consumption are factored against market-specific data reported by the National Automobile Dealers Association, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, the Can Manufacturers Institute, and direct surveys to scrap processors and demolition contractors.

The bottom line is that for more than two decades, SRI has used a consistent, credible rate, which applied across the lifetime of steel products, accurately reflects the comprehensive recycling accomplishments of the North American steel industry. Peaks and dips may occur at individual data points due to external factors, but as a whole, the rates accurately reflect, over time, the vast recycling accomplishment of the steel industry.

Quite simply, steel scrap is far too valuable of a resource to simply discard or leave to waste. It is economically and environmentally prudent for municipal solid waste programs, automotive dealerships and scrap yards, demolition contractors and manufacturers alike to ensure the recycling of any available source of steel scrap.

And, in representing steel producers in North America, there is no value in misrepresenting our industry’s recycling accomplishment, as ensuring every collection effort, and maximizing availability of steel scrap, is essential in maintaining a proper balance of supply and demand.

Differences in Steel Recycling Rate Reporting:

The Dovetail paper makes reference to differences in steel recycling rates as reported by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Canadian Steel Producers Association (CSPA), as well as mentioning other reporting bodies. As indicated above, recycling rate reporting is, essentially, in the eye of the reporting body. The scope and conditions are defined by the universe by which the reporting body operates.

For example, the USGS, which is a close partner of the SRI in rates generation, acknowledges that their data is extrapolated from about 25 percent reporting rate of receipts they track (M. Fenton, USGS). The CSPA, which was also cited in the Dovetail paper, limits the scope of its recycling rate reporting to Canada. As acknowledged above, the SRI rate calculations are built around the consumption and production of steel scrap, conserving resources.

Other, market-based approaches, referenced in the Dovetail paper also have their own set of assumptions or scope limitations. For example, the steel industry receives tons of recyclable steel cans, and other products, from waste to energy facilities, which lie beyond the typical municipal waste and recycling streams. In addition, a vast network of individual haulers—sometimes labeled as peddlers—scour the landscape and local curbsides in search of sources of steel scrap which they sell direct to scrap processors. This process reaches beyond the scope of typical recycling processes, however, it is represented when tracking the material flow into, and out of, steel production facilities.

Additionally, the Dovetail paper cited the inclusion of home (runaround) scrap and new (prompt) scrap in the calculations of steel recycling rates as a reason for differences. However, inclusion of these valuable sources of steel scrap is warranted as, by Dovetail’s definition, the uses of these sources of steel scrap “reduce the need for resource extraction and requires far less energy consumption” than producing steel from virgin material. It simply would not make sense to landfill, or otherwise, dispose of these large sources of steel scrap. Therefore, the steel industry embraces these sources of steel scrap and ensures that the resource savings are included in its annual rate benchmarks. The bottom line is that whether it is home (runaround), new (prompt), or old (obsolete) steel scrap, its use in steelmaking still conserves natural resources, and ultimately will return to the industry as part of steel’s continuous recycling cycle.

Infinite Recyclability vs. Continuous Recyclability: 

While a fine point, the Dovetail paper calls into question the infinite recyclability of steel, which, in full disclosure, would be more properly characterized as continuous recyclability. But, the sentiment is reflected through both characterizations. Steel can be recycled a continuous number of times without loss of strength or quality. The same cannot be said of many other materials. The Dovetail paper cites issues with contamination, or un-obtained recyclables, as barriers to steel’s continuous recycling cycle.

While, undoubtedly, as the Dovetail paper notes, any steel scrap that has not been collected through one of the processes, detailed above, has indeed broken the continuous recycling cycle, by nature of its omission. This, scrap, however is the exception to the rule as shown by steel’s high recycling rates—regardless of source or calculation methodology.

As for the contamination that the Dovetail paper also cites as a barrier to continuous recycling, this issue is efficiently marginalized through the classification of steel scrap by bundles as designated by ISRI Scrap Specification Circular cited above. These specifications for scrap bundles, give steelmakers a predictable understanding of the scrap being added to the steelmaking process in place of natural resources. Steelmakers then know, and can allow for specific tolerances that maximize the benefit from the bundled steel scrap, as well as the known alloys present on the steel in the bundles. Steelmakers readily adjust the mix of bundles and alloys to produce high quality steel that embraces the alloys and non-ferrous elements in scrap bundles—making these elements an asset rather than a barrier to continuous recyclability.

The Dovetail paper also cites slag, which is a known co-product of steelmaking as a yield loss. Slag is a result of impurities, metal oxides and other co-products, which are separated from the steel product to ensure purity. Like steel, the co-product slag, is also recycled. Slag is used widely in highway construction as asphalt aggregate, granular base, embankment cover or mineral wool insulation (National Slag Association 2013).

The steelmaking process, inclusive of the recycling of steel scrap in to new steel, is a highly efficient process. Through the investment in state-of-the-art steelmaking technologies, the AISI Annual Statistical Report cites a yield efficiency of 92 percent—indicating a very small impact of any yield loss to slag from impurities. Therefore, the final steel product represents a high-quality product that has been produced with steel scrap that reduces the need for natural resources and energy.

Bottom Line: 

Steel is North America’s most recycled material. Each year, more steel is recycled than paper, plastic, aluminum and glass—combined. Regardless of the reporting body, steel is recycled widely, through a plethora of material flows which may be reported upon differently dependent of the scope of the reporting organization.

The Steel Recycling Institute (SRI) makes every effort to accurately report and inclusively reflect the entire flow of steel scrap that is consumed by steelmakers in place of raw materials. There is simply no benefit to the industry, or overall recycling efforts, to “obscure actual recovery and recycling performance” as the Dovetail paper mistakenly implied.

Steel is blessed by physics and is able to be recycled continuously across the wide array of steel products while maintaining its material qualities. And through advanced technologies, the steel making process operates at a high level of efficiency, which minimizes any yield loss.

SRI continues to work closely across all aspects of the steel product life cycle to maximize the volume of steel scrap collected for recycling. Steel’s value and continued, predictable quality ensures that all efforts continue to be made to maximize the flow of steel scrap to steel mills—a goal shared by Dovetail, SRI and recycling rate reporting bodies alike. Lastly, SRI welcomes feedback and continues to work with industry partners to promote understanding of the steel recycling process, the benefits and the associated reporting.

Archives: Steel scrap: a world traded commodity

To most, the word ‘scrap’ evokes visions of unwanted, discarded leftovers. However, to the steel industry, scrap represents a vital resource that enhances all aspects of steelmaking.

The recycling of scrap metal is an integral part of modern steelmaking, improving the industry’s economic viability and reducing environmental impact. The recycling of steel scrap reduces the need for iron ore extraction, significantly reducing CO2 emissions, energy and water consumption and air pollution.

As a result of these efficiencies, steel scrap is increasingly being regarded as a raw material for manufacturing new products worldwide. As a result ferrous scrap–iron and steel–has become a globally-traded commodity. The increased demand for steel scrap is reflected in recent trade statistics.

The United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database shows that the volume of global scrap exports increased from 9.3 million metric tons in 1990 to 106 million metric tons in 2011. Figures from the Bureau of International Recycling show that total world steel scrap use increased 7.6 percent in 2011 to reach 570 million metric tons.

The globalization of the ferrous scrap market, however, also places stresses on the system. The long lifespan of steel products means the amount of steel available for recycling cannot keep up with the current world demand for new steel products. With steel structures can last longer than 60 years and automobiles often lasting longer than 12 years, steel products can be seen as scrap-in-inventory—meaning the steel will not be ready for recycling until the long life of the product comes to an end.

A positive aspect of steel is the ease of recycling when steel products finally do reach the end of their life. The ability to recover and collect old steel products for subsequent recycling is greatly enhanced by the inherent magnetic properties of steel; consequently a large tonnage of steel becomes available for recycling every year.

Figures from the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. International Trade Commission, the U.S. is the world’s largest exporter of ferrous scrap—exporting nearly 23 million metric tons of iron and steel scrap in 2011. Globally, China, Taiwan, South Korea, India, Canada, and Turkey are the largest markets for exports of U.S. steel scrap in that same period.

North America is also one of the largest consumers of its own steel scrap—recycling more than 70 percent of that scrap domestically.

“This high level of scrap consumption is a reflection of the steel industry’s commitment to conserving energy and natural resources,” said Gregory Crawford, executive director of the Steel Recycling Institute in North America. “Scrap steel is used in everyday products, including packaging, appliances, automobiles and construction. Each year, more steel is recycled in North America than paper, aluminum, plastic and glass combined.”

This flow of scrap also faces challenges in the form of trade restrictions. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reported in 2012 that North American and European ferrous scrap is traded openly, but that about 19 percent of the scrap trade is burdened by various trade restrictions.

The 2012 OECD report noted that “waste and scrap exports are restricted in many parts of the world. Waste and scrap trade involving iron and steel and non-ferrous base metals (copper, aluminum, lead and zinc) tends to be more regulated than trade involving other metals.”

The OECD found that in 2009, at least 19 percent of scrap of iron and steel, exported by a total of 34 countries, was subject to export restrictions. “Export restrictions dampen trade flows,” said the report. “In fact, some exports actually will not take place due to the very fact that export restrictions are in place. Export activity would be higher if restrictions did not exist.”

The rationales which governments cite most frequently as motivating their use of the restrictions include safeguarding domestic supplies, controlling illegal exports, and protecting local industry. Non-automatic export licensing, export taxes, and other export prohibitions were among the measures used to regulate the export of iron and steel scrap, according to the OECD.

Archive: Steel Recycling: Bigger Than The Bin

It’s a strange irony that the most recycled product in the United States won’t even fit in a recycling bin. Size, however, doesn’t stop this product from being recycled in large volume. In fact, automobiles are recycled at nearly a 100 percent
rate each year.

For millions of Americans, recycling means setting a bin full of empty steel soup cans, glass mayonnaise jars, plastic ketchup bottles and old newspapers at the curbside. It’s hard to imagine automobiles being collected for recycling, but cars are actually recycled more than newspapers, beverage cans or any other recyclable product.

For years, automobiles have been recycled for their iron and steel content. And more recently, efforts are being made to increase the volume of steel an iron captured from automobiles through the recycling of used oil filters and steel tire
wire. These new sources of steel scrap are often a byproduct of the automobile while it is still in service, as well as a byproduct of the dismantling process once the car has reached the end of its road service.

Steel has long been the driving force behind the recycling of automobiles, and as more infrastructure develops for recycling used oil filters and tire wire, even greater options of the automobile will be on the road to becoming new steel products.

The Road to New Steel

The recycling of the automobile and its components provides a steady stream of high-quality steel scrap needed to make new steel. With the nearly 13 million automobiles collected and processed for recycling last year, along with the additional scrap achieved through recycling last year, along with the additional scrap achieved through recycling used oil filters and steel tire wire, it’s fortunate that steel mill furnaces have healthy appetites for steel scrap.
The whole process is an excellent example of how economics can drive recycling. In 1997, more than 13 million tons of steel scrap from automotive shredding operations were shipped to steel mills for recycling. And through the development of new recycling markets, this stream of steel scrap will find a welcome addition to the scrap used to make new steel.

Tire Wire Scrap

Tires were initially recycled for their rubber content, which is chipped, ground and/or melted into products such as asphalt and playground padding, as well as tire-derived fuel. But thanks to advances in technology, recycling steel tire
wire is also an environmentally-responsible means of collecting a high quality source of steel scrap and conserving landfill space.

The average passenger tire contains approximately 10 percent steel wire by weight, which helps make the tire stronger and more rigid. By chipping tires and recovering the steel wire, up to 99 percent of the average passenger car tire can now be captured for recycling.

These recycling innovations both conserve natural resources and conserve landfill space. When left intact, ten tires can occupy more than a cubic yard of space in a landfill, but now these tires are being put to use, along with other sources of steel scrap, to become new steel.

In a single year, the steel tire wire from an equivalent of nearly eight million tires is shipped to be recycled.

Used Oil Filters

Oil filters are made almost entirely of steel. Despite their small size, these filters can add up. By recycling all the oil filters sold annually in the U.S., enough steel would be recovered to build 16 new stadiums the size of Atlanta’s Turner Field.

Some states have banned used oil filters from the landfill, while others have placed restrictions on how they can be discarded. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires used oil filters to be drained of all free-flowing oil before they are discarded or recycled. Most states follow federal requirements for used oil filter disposal.

Part of the Overall Recycling Package

The very roots of automobile recycling lie in the steel industry’s need for ferrous scrap. Steel has been the material of choice for automobile manufacturing since the car’s beginnings because of its strength and durability. Since that time, manufacturers and scrap processors alike have come to realize the additional benefits of steel’s infinite recyclability. In 1997 alone, the steel industry recycled enough steel from old automobiles to produce almost 13 million new

The steel industry, together with the scrap processing industry, is responsible for laying the groundwork for the efficient automobile recycling infrastructure that exists today. In an effort to provide more steel scrap to the growing steel industry and to reduce the automobile’s impact on the environment, the two industries worked collectively in the early 1960’s to develop the first automobile shredders. Today, a network of dismantlers and shredders effectively process the millions of vehicles taken off the road each year.

One of the first steps in preparing an automobile for recycling is to remove all the reusable parts. This process is often referred to as dismantling. The dismantling process removes items such as transmissions, water pumps, head and tail lights and other parts which can be used to repair other cars.

Once these parts have been removed, the remaining auto body is ready to begin its own recycling journey. Its fist stop is at the car crusher, where once elegant, flashy hot rods are reduced to flattened masses of steel. The auto bodies are flattened for ease of storage and processing. The flattened hulks are then sent to the auto shredder.

Inside the shredder, a large roller spins a series of hammers smashing the car into bits of steel and other materials in less than a minute. Shredding the automobile separates the variety of materials used in automobile manufacturing. The shredder is found at the scrap processing facility. There are more than 200 automobile shredders in operation across North America.

As the fist-sized chunks of material leave the shredder, the steel is automatically separated from the other materials by a magnet. Steel’s magnetic attraction makes it easy to identify and recycle.

Once the steel has been separated from remaining materials, it is then ready to make a hot stop at the steel mill to be made into new steel products.

Steel Recycling Background

Steel scrap is the single largest ingredient needed to make new steel. Today, the steel industry’s scrap hungry furnaces recycle more than 65 percent of the steel produced each year. Increases in technology continue to push the steel industry’s capacity to recycle steel to even greater levels. This remarkable recycling achievement is by no means limited to the last few years. With the exception of the very earliest methods of steelmaking, steel scrap has always played an important role in the steelmaking process.

The steel industry’s steady, increasing demand for scrap has notable consequences. First, the United States has developed the most efficient steel recycling infrastructure in the world. More than 1,500 ferrous scrap processors prepare both pre- and post-consumer steel scrap for recycling. The United States is also the world’s largest exporter of steel scrap. Like any other raw material, steel scrap has true economic value. As a result, it is collected and prepared for recycling for its market value as well as for the energy savings and natural resource conservation it provides to the steel industry.

Environmental Innovation in the Design

Realizing the importance of recycling automobiles, car manufacturers are designing their vehicles with a long-term view of how the components can be refurbished, reused or recycled. And when these automobiles are made from steel, the car is both made with recycled content and is recyclable at the end of its use.

As a result, automakers have been using recycled material to make new cars for decades. How much recycled material? Nearly three-quarters of an automobile is made of steel and iron, and all of these steel car parts contain a minimum of 25 percent recycled steel. However, many internal steel and iron parts such as engine blocks are made using an even higher percentage of recycled steel. Overall, the average recycled content of the steel in a passenger car is approximately 44 percent. The steel industry has also made great strides in the production of steel to minimize environmental impact, and has designed new lighter, stronger steels to increase automobile safety and fuel economy.

Lighter and Stronger Steels

The steel industry is working to ensure that steel remains the material of choice fro automobiles. This is a challenge being addressed by the progressive steel industry. In today’s marketplace, government standards dictate that cars must be lighter and more fuel efficient but retain performance standards.

The government is seeking to increase an automobile’s fuel efficiency. However, it’s important not to look at fuel efficiency “in a vacuum” and ignore that other environmental benefits that may be lost by increasing it. For instance, increasing fuel efficiency by building cars largely out of lighter weight, less-recyclable materials lowers a car’s safety and recyclability. Instead, it’s important to examine fuel efficiency with a car’s entire lifecycle in mind, including its affordability, safety, recyclability and insurability.

The steel industry has responded to these demands by producing lighter, stronger steels. The latest steel alloys used in automobile manufacturing did not exist as little as five years ago. And a current steel industry project, the UltraLight Steel AutoBody (ULSAB), will shed as much as 36 percent of the weight of the frame of the vehicle with no loss of strength or performance.

In addition to reduced weight and superior performance, ULSAB costs no more to build than typical autobody structures in its class and could even yield cost savings. The new steel body structure will help automobile manufacturers around
the world provide their customers with safer, cost-competitive, more environmentally responsible vehicles that meet increasing expectations for performance.

While reducing weight was a major goal of this project, the ULSAB also met targets for structural efficiency-achieving a high-strength body with minimal mass. State of the art steelmaking technology makes it possible to shave away the weight while maintaining safety. This reduction helps both the steel industry and the auto industry improve the environment, including reductions in air and water emissions-minimizing environmental impact.


With virtually 100 percent of out-of-service automobiles collection for recycling, they are the most recycled commodities in the United States’ biggest recycling success story. Automobiles contained recycled steel long before the term “recycled content” ever came into popular use.

Archive: Wash Cycle, Rinse Cycle, Spin Cycle – Recycle!

We’re nation dependent upon appliances. Our water heaters, ovens, refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines and other white goods quietly fulfill essential roles in our daily lives. In the United States, 98 percent of homes have a refrigerator. An estimated 98 percent have a range. Appliances are designed to save energy and labor, giving us time to do other things.

Normally, these faithful servants will chill, cook, or clean for us for fifteen or more years. But at some point in their lives, appliances must be replaced.

An estimated 54 million appliances are disposed of each year in the United States. All major appliances are made predominantly of steel. The majority of this steel is found in the metal shell or body that encases an appliance’s electrical components. While steel is used in appliances for its strength, economy and durability, it also makes appliances recyclable.

Steel’s Recyclability

Steel is the heavy-weight champion of the recycling world. More steel is recycled in all of North America than any other material. In 1995, about 70 million tons of steel scrap were recycled, including scrap from post consumer steel products such as appliances.

The reason why so much steel is recycled is that steel mills need steel scrap to make new steel. The two types of steelmaking processes used in the United States to make new steel, the basic oxygen furnace (BOF) and the electric arc furnace (EAF), use steel scrap to make new steel. The BOF consumes about 28 percent steel scrap to produce new steel. The EAF melts virtually 100 percent steel scrap to make new steel. More than 68 percent of the 103 million tons of new steel that poured from steelmaking furnaces in 1995 was obtained from melted scrap.

By weight, the average appliance consists of about 75 percent steel, which makes it an excellent feedstock of steel scrap for recycling into new steel.

Between 1990 and 1995, the national recycling rate for home appliances rose from 32 percent to 74.8 percent. More than 2.1 million tons of steel recovered from appliances were recycled in 1995.

Collecting Appliances

How can you recycle an appliance like your refrigerator or clothes washing machine? Actually, there are a variety of ways in which your old appliances can enter the recycling infrastructure. Call your local recycling or solid waste management office to determine if you live in one of the many communities that offers municipal pick-up of appliances. Most communities also allow residents to take their appliances to designated drop-off sites.

If your community doesn’t offer appliance recycling, there are still options. If you’re purchasing a new appliance, many retail establishments will accept your old one when they deliver the new one. To help residents reduce their monthly electric bills and total load on the power plant, utility companies occasionally work with communities to sponsor appliance “take back” programs for working appliances that are actually unneeded, such as the extra refrigerator in the garage or basement. And although they normally deal with bulk quantities, ferrous scrap yards will probably accept your appliance for recycling.

Of course, there’s another easy way to determine where you can recycle your appliance. Call the SRI’s toll-free consumer information line, 1-800-YES-1-CAN (937-1226). By calling the number, consumers can locate the closest option, by zip code, that accepts appliances for recycling or order information about appliance recycling.

Recycling Appliances

What happens to your old appliance once it is collected for recycling?

First, appliance processors normally remove components, such as electric motors, capacitors, switches and other mechanical parts, from the appliance. If the appliance is a refrigerator, freezer or some other type of appliance with cooling equipment, then its refrigerant gases must be captured and recycled. See the sidebar on the next page for more information about special processing considerations.

At a ferrous scrap processing yard, the appliance shell is then typically hoisted onto a conveyor belt, which feeds it to a massive automobile shredder. Its whirling hammers crush and shred the appliance into fist-sized chunks which exit the shredder onto a conveyor belt. The steel pieces are then magnetically separated from the other metals and plastics and shipped to steel mills for recycling into new steel. Nonferrous metals, such as copper and aluminum, are usually removed and recycled as well.

As about 75 percent of the average appliance is made from steel, the remaining material, such as plastic and rubber, is usually accumulated for disposal at a landfill.

Recycled Appliances

Appliances are not just recyclable, they’re also made from recycled steel. The steel used to make new appliances is made from about 28 percent recycled steel.

Environmental Benefits of Steel Recycling

Appliance recycling conserves energy, landfill space and natural resources. By recycling the extra refrigerator in the basement, residents save on their electric bill. Recycling bulky appliances leaves room for other solid waste to be landfilled. Of course, the steel industry benefits from recycling steel appliances as well. The 2.1 million tons of steel recovered from recycled appliances conserved more than 2 million tons of iron ore, nearly 1.5 million tons of coal, and 126,000 tons of limestone.

Processing Considerations

Some appliances have special processing considerations before a ferrous scrap processor can accept the appliance for recycling. Refrigerators, freezers and other appliances designed to cool contain refrigerant gasses like CFCs or HCFCs. By law, these refrigerant gases must be recovered before an appliance can be recycled. Some communities, therefore, charge residents a fee, usually between $10 and $20, to accept these types of appliances to cover the labor and equipment for these additional processing costs. Not all communities do so: on page 9, we profile how Pima County, AZ negotiated a contract with a local ferrous scrap processor to reduce these costs for their residents.

Refrigerant Gases

Legislation enacted more than 20 years ago has significantly altered the way appliances are processed for recycling today. Originally passed in 1970, the Clean Air Act was America’s first comprehensive legislation to cover emission of pollutants to the air. The act was later updated to reflect the goals of the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This international agreement was signed by more than 100 nations and requires each country to cut its production of ozone depleting substances in half by 1998. Later, the Protocol was amended to include the complete phase-out of the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by the year 1995.

As a result, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has mandated that, prior to recycling or disposal, any refrigerant gases that are deemed as ozone depleting and found in appliances must be captured for recycling. CFCs and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), both considered ozone depleting coolants, are only found in appliances that refrigerate or cool.

The CFCs and HCFCs that are reclaimed are cleaned and reused in the maintenance and repair of other units. In some areas, scrap dealers have the CFC removal equipment and certified technicians to easily accomplish these procedures. In other areas, specialty recycling companies provide this service, either independently or in association with appliance dealers or the local government.

In either case, processors who are involved in the recycling of appliances are responsible for ensuring that the refrigerant gases have been reclaimed.

PCB Capacitors

Appliances often contain capacitors, which are electronic circuit devices for temporary storage of electrical energy. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a carcinogen, are oily fluids used as electrolytic substances in a small percentage of capacitors produced prior to the year 1979. PCBs were used in some capacitors for air conditioners and microwave ovens and, much less often, for refrigerators and freezers.

The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1968 banned the production and sale of PCBs after 1978, but allowed small capacitors used in household appliances to remain in service. Since the average life span of an appliance is 15 years, less than five percent of all appliances processed for recycling in 1988 contained PCB capacitors, according to the EPA. That small percentage is in all likelihood much smaller or virtually nonexistent today as many of these appliances have been recycled or disposed of.

Archive: Reel in Steel: Fishing for Recycled Products

Where would you go if you wanted to buy products made from recycled materials for your home, your business or your community?

Actually, not far. Steel products like lawn mowers, fences, stop signs, refrigerators, tool boxes, swing sets, utensils and even pick-up trucks are all made from recycled steel.

Steel is the supermetal of metals: it is the world’s most useful, least expensive and most recycled metal. And there’s no need to hunt for a special recycling sticker or symbol on steel products – from baby spoons to bridge beams-all steel items contain recycled steel, or what many refer to as recycled content. That’s because millions of tons of steel scrap are recovered from industry and also diverted from the solid waste stream and recycled each year.

A Hearty Appetite

Steel doesn’t experience end market hibernation, when end markets gorge themselves on recyclables for a short time before steeling in for a long period of inactivity. Instead, steel mills are the epitome of solid, stable end markets. The steel industry’s appetite for scrap was particularly healthy in 995, with more than 70 million tons of scrap recycled. All this scrap consumption loosened the industry’s recycling belt a few notches outward to 68.5 percent, its highest rate since the Steel Recycling Institute (SRI) began calculating it in 1988.

The reason steel mills are such stable end markets is that steel simply isn’t made without recycling scrap. Steelmakers learned long ago that remnants of steel could be used as a feedstock for the furnace. Recycling wasn’t motivated by our current environmental concerns but instead by very real economic ones.

Nonetheless, the steel industry’s drive for an efficient, cost-effective method of steelmaking resulted in environmental benefits. Through recycling, the expenses of mining new iron ore, coal and other raw materials, as well as transporting and refining these materials into a usable form, are avoided-and as a result, natural resources are conserved.

Fe + C = ?

On a most basic level, steel is formed when the element iron (symbol Fe) is combined with a small amount of the element carbon (symbol C). The addition of carbon makes the iron stronger and harder.

Today, there are two ways to make steel in the United States, both of which use extensive amounts of steel scrap. One of the two methods is through a basic oxygen furnace (BOF). The other is through the electric arc furnace (EAF).

The Basic Oxygen Furnace

In the United, more steel is produced in the BOF than in the EAF. As much as 300 tons of steel can be produced in a single BOF in as little as 45 minutes.

The BOF recycles approximately 28 percent steel scrap in the production of new steel. This steel scrap includes a variety of post-consumer products, such as steel cans, appliances, automobiles and construction and demolition material.

First, steelmakers select specific types and amounts of steel scrap, like bales of steel cans, and load the scrap into a scrap charging hopper. The charging hopper is then positioned before the BOF opening, and the steel scrap is dumped (or what steelmakers refer to as charged) into the furnace.

After the scrap charging hopper is moved away from the furnace opening, hot molten iron is then poured into the furnace on top of the scrap. Onto this molten metal bath is blown high purity oxygen. Within 45 minutes, the metal bath is transformed into molten steel.

The steel produced in the BOF is typically used to make steel sheet products, such as steel cans, cars and appliances.

The Electric Arc Furnace

The electric arc furnace uses virtually 100 percent steel scrap to produce new steel. During the steelmaking process, the roof of the furnace is swung aside so that the scrap may be charged inside. The roof is then replaced, and carbon electrodes are lowered through openings in the roof. Electric arcs produce enough heat to melt the steel scrap.

Limestone and fluxes are added to remove any impurities in the steel. When the chemical composition of the steel meets specifications, the molten steel is tapped from the furnace. The steel made in the EAF is predominantly made into long shape products, like steel plate, beams and reinforcement

All Steel Contains Recycled Steel

The issue of recycled content is different for steel than it is for products like paper and plastic. For example, steel with virtually 100 percent recycled content is not environmentally superior, so to speak, to steel with 28 percent recycled content. This is not contradictory because they are both complementary parts of the total interlocking infrastructure of steel making, product manufacture, scrap generation and recycling. The recycled content of EAF steel relies on the embodied energy savings of the steel created in the BOF.

There are some basic reasons for this. Consider that steel products are largely durable goods: cars, appliances, bridges and buildings remain in use for many years. All new steel cannot be made with the EAF because the supply of available quality steel scrap for recycling would be insufficient to meet the demand for new steel. The BOF has a complementary relationship with the EAF because it introduces new levels of steel into the total system.

Second, the steel industry has never needed “recycled content” purchasing to drive scrap use. As a technological function of the steelmaking process itself, all steel contains recycled steel, creating an economic demand for scrap. And an extensive infrastructure has existed for decades to return all types of pre and post-consumer steel scrap to steel mills. After its useful product life, steel scrap is recycled back into another steel product regardless of the process from which it originated or is destined toward.

Archive: Fridge Today, Car Tomorrow: Appliance Recycling Efforts Supplying Steel for Future Products

Appliances are convenient time and labor saving devices that American society has come to depend on. Just as appliances are made from steel, they reduce our worries about disposing of them after they no longer work.

Steel is North America’s #1 recycled material. More than 66.8 million tons of steel scrap were recycled from steel products, such as appliances.

In only five years, the national recycling rate for appliances has risen from 32 percent to 74.8 percent in 1995, with more than 41 million appliances recycled in 1995.

Steel scrap has become the steel industry’s single largest source of raw material because it is economically advantageous to recycle old steel into new steel. Today, the steel industry’s scrap-hungry furnaces recycle 68 percent of the steel produced each year. Increases in technology continue to push the steel industry’s capacity
to recycle steel to even greater levels.

This remarkable recycling achievement is by no means limited to the last few years. With the exception of the very earliest methods of steelmaking, steel scrap has always played an important role in the steelmaking process. In fact, for the past 50 years, more than 50 percent of the steel produced in the United States has been

The steel industry’s steady, increasing demand for steel scrap has notable consequences. First, the United States has developed the most efficient steel recycling infrastructure in the world. More than 1,600 ferrous scrap processors prepare steel scrap for recycling by the steel industry.

Like any other raw material, steel scrap has true economic value. As a result, steel scrap is collected and prepared for recycling from a variety of sources for its market value as well as for the energy savings and natural resource conservation it provides to the steel industry.

Appliance Recycling

Appliances are easy to recycle because they contain large amounts of steel. By weight, the typical appliance contains about 75 percent steel. And according to the Appliance Recycling Information Center, Washington D.C., the average steel content in refrigerators, clothes dryers and ranges all exceed 100 lbs.

Many communities have established temporary or permanent collection programs to ensure that appliances are recycled. These appliances are accepted by ferrous scrap processors who prepare them for recycling by the steel industry.

Processing Appliances

Processors typically remove components, such as electric motors, capacitors, switches and other mechanical parts, from the appliances before recycling. If the appliances contains refrigeration or cooling equipment, refrigerant gases must be captured and recycled.

Refrigerant Gases

CFCs and hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), both considered ozone-depleting coolants, are only found in appliances that refrigerate or cool. The CFCs and HCFCs that are reclaimed are cleaned and reused in the maintenance and repair of other units. In some areas, scrap dealers have the CFC removal equipment and certified technicians to easily accomplish these procedures. In other areas, specialty recycling companies provide this service, either independently or in association with appliance dealers or the local government.

In either case, processors involved in recycling appliances are responsible for ensuring that the refrigerants have been reclaimed.

Ferrous Scrap Processors

Ferrous scrap processors accept all types of steel scrap, including appliances, for recycling. At the scrap yard, the automobile shredder is the primary equipment for preparing appliances for recycling. Shredding an appliance breaks it down into small chunks of steel, which are melted more efficiently for recycling in a steel mill’s furnace. It also facilitates removal of nonferrous metallic and nonmetallic fluff.

Appliances are fed to the shredder by crane, which loads the appliance onto a steel conveyor belt. What looks like a spiked, over-sized dough-roller crushes the appliance down and rips the shell apart as it enters. Inside, free-swinging hammers shred the shell into fist-sized chunks. The material then exits the shredding unit and continues down a conveyor belt for mechanical sorting. The steel components are first magnetically separated and eventually discharged from the conveyor to form large piles of shredded steel, plus a smaller component of nonferrous metal, and a pile of fluff which is ultimately discarded.

End Markets

The two types of steelmaking furnaces, the basic oxygen furnace and the electric arc furnace, use steel scrap to make new steel. Integrated steel mills use the blast furnace to process iron ore into molten iron. Then the basic oxygen furnace uses scrap steel and oxygen together with molten iron to make new steel.

The final product from the basic oxygen furnace contains approximately 28 percent steel scrap, or in today’s environmental terminology, recycled content. Another steelmaking process which uses steel scrap from appliances and other steel products is the electric arc furnace, which uses virtually 100 percent steel scrap.

Appliance Recycling Future

The 1995 appliance recycling rate is 74.8 percent, up from an estimated 20 percent in 1988. This recycling rate should continue to expand, as 18 states have passed legislation banning appliances from landfills to extend the life of their landfills and to encourage the development of new recycling programs.

Archive: Entering the Mainstream: Empty Steel Aerosol Cans, A Part of Many Programs’ Recycling Efforts

The aerosol can is a sealed, airtight container with a unique self-contained delivery system that overcomes atmospheric pressure to dispense its product in a controlled direction and amount. Sounds a bit complex, so it must be difficult to recycle, right?

Wrong. More than 90 percent of aerosol cans are made from steel, North America’s most recycled material. Steel’s recyclability positions the aerosol container for today’s recycling demands.

An entire industry of ferrous scrap processors has been formed around the preparation of steel scrap for steel mills. In 1995, more than 70 million tons of steelmaking, fabrication and post-consumer steel scrap were recycled into new steel products. It is through this very same well-established recycling infrastructure that steel aerosol cans are recycled as a steel scrap.

Steel Can Recycling

Steel food and beverage cans are commonly included in nearly every community’s recycling program: in all, there are more than 14,500 steel can recycling programs.

Empty steel aerosol cans should be a part of each of these programs. But misinformation or misunderstanding initially prevented the immediate inclusion of aerosol cans when many curbside and drop-off municipal recycling programs began collecting steel cans. For example, a large majority of the public wrongly believed or assumed that aerosol cans still contained chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were banned in 1978. Public education and industry outreach have finally begun to turn the tide. Most recently, it appears that one of the major hurdles, regarding the issue of emptiness, has been overcome.

When is an Aerosol Can Empty?

When it comes to recycling, all types of packaging have on ordinary factor in common: the container must be empty before it may be recycled. For aerosol cans, this seems to pose a special challenge. Invariably the question arises, at what point is an aerosol can empty?

There are several ways this can be answered. For those with an exhaustive desire for precision, the federal government has defined exactly when a container, including an aerosol can, is considered empty. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations 40 CFR, section 261.7 states that emptiness occurs when “No more than 3 percent by weight of the total capacity of the container remains in the container or inner liner . . . “or “when the pressure in the container approaches atmospheric” pressure.

But before gauging how much product is left in the can, you should know that an aerosol can is designed to fully and efficiently dispense virtually all of its contents. The long, thin dip tube that carries the product out of the can reaches into the edge of the can’s domed base to capture the product. In addition, both the aerosol can’s product and propellant are carefully measured to exhaust at virtually the same time.

Finally, common sense says that when an aerosol can’s working nozzle is activated yet does not release any product, the container is empty.

Municipal Recycling Programs

So how much preparation do aerosol cans require for recycling through municipal recycling programs? The answer is simple: none. Before recycling aerosol cans through municipal collection programs, household residents are instructed to simply use up the contents of the containers normally. A 1992 study conducted by the Steel Recycling Institute under the purview of the Texas Water Commission demonstrated that consumers sufficiently empty their aerosol cans before recycling them. The “Houston Aerosol Can Recycling Evaluation” physically evaluated a sample of more than 1,700 consumer-emptied aerosol cans collected through the Houston, Texas curbside program over a six-week period. The results of the study indicated that the mean combined residual product remaining in the cans was 2.69 percent, well
within the three percent “emptiness” criterion established by the U.S. Code of Federal Regulation.

Another study was just recently completed by the Factory Mutual Research Corporation. This study demonstrated that material recovery facilities may safely process aerosol cans collected along with other steel containers and recyclables.
An earlier study on the flammability of aerosols had been conducted by S.C. Johnson Wax at two processing facilities with six different types of equipment. It was determined that the lower flammability limit was never reached with ordinary processing, so concerns about plant safety were answered.

Factories, Plants and Shops

Multiple users, quality of product with intermittent applications and other factors all tend to reduce the chance that an aerosol can’s product will be thoroughly and completely used up at factories, plants and shops. In these cases, special equipment may b employed when required to ensure that the cans are completely emptied for recycling.

To ensure that all steel aerosol cans in the factory, plant or shop are empty before being recycled, preparation may be appropriate. They are collected at one or more preparation sites in the facility, where they are punctured and drained of any remaining product and propellant using appropriate equipment designed for this purpose. Once the cans are emptied and then flattened, they can be picked up by a scrap dealer or waste hauler to be baled along with other steel cans collected in residential programs and shipped to end markets for recycling. Puncturing, draining and flattening provides visual assurance that all of the cans have in fact been properly prepared.

Aerosol Can Fillers and Household Hazardous Waste Processors

Aerosol can fillers and household hazardous waste processors have something in common: aggregate quantities of full or partially full steel aerosol cans. Over time, aerosol can fillers generate filling line rejects, malfunctioning cans and damaged cans. Aerosol cans collected through household hazardous waste collection programs have full or partially full containers that are old or defective or that residents no longer wait.

Aerosol can fillers segregate the reject or otherwise unsalable containers. They also may receive consolidated customer returns from the retail network. The collected cans are taken to the factory’s preparation center, where special equipment is used to decant, degas and flatten them automatically. The steel aerosol cans are then shipped to a secondary processor for baling and shipment to end markets. The contents of the rejected cans are recovered for reuse or prepared for proper disposal.

Household hazardous waste vendors are encouraged to operate in a similar manner. During community household hazardous waste collections, which typically occur once or twice a year, partially full or full aerosol cans (along with many other containers) are taken to a designated collection site by residents. These programs also collect significant quantities of empty aerosol cans which residents should have actually been able to recycle along with other steel cans through their ordinary curbside and drop-off programs. After the aerosol cans are assembled, hazardous waste vendors may use similar specialty equipment to decant, degas, and flatten them. Some operators without appropriate equipment may need to ship the cans to a larger operator in the area. The emptied, flattened aerosol containers are then sent to a secondary processor, such as a ferrous scrap yard, for baling and shipment to end market. They are typically mixed with other empty steel cans, such as paint cans. In some cases, the prepared containers may go to a material recovery facility where they are mixed in with residential cans. By recycling these cans, household hazardous waste management and landfill costs are reduced, in turn reducing the overall cost of the household hazardous waste collection program.

Steel Mills Recycle Aerosols

Less than 15 percent of steel cans were being recycled in 1988, about the time when many municipal recycling programs began to emerge. As steel cans are commonly used to package food, beverages, paint and aerosol products, recycling coordinators were able to divert steel cans from the solid waste stream to secondary processors, including ferrous scrap dealers, for steel mill consumption. The supply of steel cans for recycling began to increase yearly, along with renewed interest by steel melters.

Steel mills purchased increasing amounts of steel can scrap for several reasons. In a steelmaking furnace, molten iron, scrap and varying levels of fluxing agents and other alloying elements are mixed together to create a “heat” of steel with
a specific chemical composition of the scrap being added to the furnace so that the resulting heat meets a desired chemical profile. As a source of steel scrap, steel cans have a highly predictable chemical composition. In addition, they have virtually no contaminants to the steelmaking process, as paper labels or plastic components are vaporized in the face of volcanic temperatures. And, when coupled with the fact that steel cans have been lower in price than other comparable grades of scrap and that appealing public relations is created by helping to reduce the size of a community’s municipal solid waste stream, steel cans are a desirable form of scrap.

Many steelmakers have altered their scrap purchases proving that steel cans are becoming a known and desired commodity. In 1995, more than 80 end markets across the country helped recycle 55.9 percent of the 32 billion steel cans produced in the United States.

Benefits of Empty Steel Aerosol Can Recycling

Municipal solid waste managers and recycling coordinators are adding empty steel aerosol cans to their collection programs, especially at this time when many recycling programs are moving to expand their collection bases in an effort to meet state recycling mandates. Collecting empty steel aerosol cans for recycling requires no further collection or processing equipment, and can add as much as three to five percent to a recycling program’s total steel can diversion rate.

The SRI has a variety of brochures and other information about steel can recycling.

Archive: A Recipe for Recycling: Food Service Facilities Serve Up Steel Cans Through Dockside Recycling

A medical center in Wisconsin does it. So, too, does a university in Maine. A naval base in California is very actively involved in it, as is a school district in Louisiana and the prison system in South Carolina. All of these commercial and institutional establishments do something virtually unheard of a decade ago: they collect steel food cans generated from their food service operations for recycling.

More food service operators are establishing recycling programs in their facilities to properly manage their solid waste and to control disposal costs. In addition, by diverting additional material from the solid waste stream, these facilities can help communities meet state and local mandates for recycling.

Of course, there are the underlying environmental incentives to recycling. Throwing away less solid waste conserves landfill space, natural resources and energy. All of these reasons are why many food service programs recycle steel cans, especially one-gallon steel food cans.

One-Gallon Steel Food Cans

One gallon steel cans look like large coffee cans, but may contain many different, sometimes surprising foods: sliced peaches, olives, cheese sauce, tomato paste, chocolate pudding and even chow mein noodles.

Consumers are not very familiar with one-gallon steel cans because they’re not commonly seen on grocery store shelves. Why not? Just as a gallon of milk or a gallon of ice cream is a bit too much to consume at a single sitting, so, too, is a one-gallon can-full of sliced pineapples for example. An ordinary 16-ounce steel can, what you probably picture when you think of steel cans, serves four people. The one-gallon-sized steel can, on the other hand, serves approximately 25. So it’s likely that these cans do not regularly appear in residential recycling programs.

An Ideal Container

However, one-gallon steel cans are ideal containers for use by the food service industry because they package bulk quantities of fresh foods in durable, stackable containers. Nearly 97 percent of canned food is packaged in steel, and food service facilities use millions of steel cans each year.

Food service facilities prepare their meals with foods packaged in steel cans because of the many advantage the containers offer. The more than 1,500 varieties of canned foods require no cutting, thawing or pre-measuring. To lock in both freshness and nutrition, fruits and vegetables are sealed inside steel cans usually within just a few hours after harvesting.

Of course, once a steel can is used, both the empty container and the trimmed lid are recyclable and are being recycled from food service facilities today.

What else is Recyclable?

In addition to steel cans, there are many recyclable materials that are generated from commercial and institutional facilities. Food service operators should contact their waste hauler to determine what materials in the solid waste stream can potentially be recycled. Steel and aluminum cans, glass bottles and jars, plastic containers and cardboard are recycled in most recycling programs. Recycling programs established in food service facilities are sometimes referred to as “dockside” recycling programs, because most of the collected materials are stored in a container on the receiving dock for reasons of space, sanitation and shipping convenience for the hauler.

Of course, a multimaterial dockside recycling program is the most efficient and has the best chance of reducing a food service facility’s solid waste disposal costs and helping a community to meet its recycling goals.

Conducting a Waste Audit

How do food service operators determine what recyclables lie hidden in the solid waste stream?

Simple: they open up the dumpster and take a look. Actually, poking around through trash has a very dignified name: conducting a waste audit.

A waste audit helps estimate the percentage of solid waste a food service facility is generating that is recyclable, and it’s a step that must be taken before any other decisions can be made. It will help a waste hauler to obtain an estimate of the type and amount of recyclable materials being generated at the commercial/institutional establishment.

Buying Recycled

In addition to recycling portions of their solid waste stream, food service facilities can also make an environmental impact by purchasing products made from recycled, recyclable materials.

The steelmaking process requires old steel scrap, like steel cans, to make new steel. Therefore, all steel products are made from recycled steel.

Steel cans contain approximately 25 percent recycled steel. Even the steel construction beams used to build commercial and institutional establishments are made from virtually 100 percent recycled steel.

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