Steel Recycling: Can Steel Be Recycled?
Recycling is one of many simple ways to reduce personal waste and the amount of waste that ends up in landfills, but let’s face it — knowing which materials to recycle and which materials to toss can be confusing.
Luckily, you can add steel to your list of recyclable materials. Many types of metal are recyclable, and steel is one of those! In fact, its production is energy efficient, meaning that it uses less energy to produce a valuable resource.
Keep reading to find out how steel is recycled and about other metals that you can add to your recycling bin the next time you use canned goods or crack open a refreshing beverage with a metal bottle cap.
What Types of Steel Are Recyclable?
There are two main types of steel — regular steel and stainless steel. Each of these types of steel has different purposes and uses, but they are both recyclable. Plus, steel is the most recycled material on our planet!
Steel is an alloy made from iron and carbon, with iron being the most prominent.
Known for its incredible strength, steel is used for various purposes like construction and transportation. Steel is an incredibly valuable resource because it is everywhere — in our cars, washing machines, refrigerators, surgical tools, and more.
Though there are two main types of steel, there are over 3,500 grades that all have different properties.
Stainless steel is a type of steel that is resistant to corrosion and rusting. The main component that gives stainless steel its corrosion-resistant properties is chromium.
Stainless steel has several purposes and is normally used to make appliances and cookware. It’s also super useful because it is resistant to friction, impact, and even fire. That’s why it’s so often used in things like jewelry or silverware that undergo plenty of wear and tear.
Though different from conventional steel, stainless steel is 100% recyclable.
Do I Need To Separate Steel and Stainless Steel for Recycling?
A typical recycling routine involves separating materials like paper, glass, metal, and certain plastics. In addition to separating your recyclables, it is important to rinse out your cans and cartons to ensure that they will be recycled properly without contaminating other materials.
Most metals are absolutely recyclable, and you can mix them into the same single stream recycling bin. Aluminum cans, steel food cans, or aerosol containers can all go in the same bin.
However, stainless steel is an exception that should not be placed in your curbside bin. Instead, you can drop stainless steel off at a metal recycler.
The reason that steel can be easily recycled is that it is magnetic, and at the recycling facility, large magnets are used to sort it from other metals. Stainless steel is often not as strongly magnetic because it is composed of other substances outside of just steel.
How Is Steel Recycled?
So what exactly happens when you place your steel into a recycling bin? Let’s take a look at the process.
Sanitation workers collect steel in recycling bins, but it can also be picked up by special metal recycling centers. If you have big pieces of metal that you want to recycle, you can often drop off the materials at a local center.
Sorting and Processing
At the recycling facility, materials travel along a conveyor belt. A large magnet attracts steel cans to a revolving belt that sorts them from other materials on their journey. The steel is then melted in a furnace of nearly 3,000 degrees. Steel cans are often mixed with other metals like scrap metals or automobile parts.
Solidifying Steel Bars
Next, the melted metal gets recast into slabs and is rolled into steel sheets for easy transport. The flat stock is then cut into sections, rolled, or welded into tubes. This way, the pieces can then be used to create something brand new — like a bike, car, or another can!
How Does Steel Recycling Impact the Environment?
If you’ve ever seen a steel manufacturing mill, you’ve also probably seen loads of smoke and pollution coming from the steel stacks. This is because creating steel from iron ore uses a lot of time, energy, and fuel.
The good news is that the impact that steel recycling has on the environment is much smaller and easier to digest. Recycling steel requires 60% less energy than producing steel from ore. Not to mention, creating products from recycled steel uses 40% less water and reduces mining waste by 97%.
So, recycling steel has loads of benefits, and it’s much better than the alternatives. It’s 100% recyclable, but if placed in a landfill, it can take up to 200 years to decompose completely. That can cause a lot of danger for local wildlife and the surrounding environment, so if you can’t reuse your steel, be sure to discard it properly.
What Other Types of Metal Can Be Recycled?
Steel isn’t the only type of metal that’s recyclable.
In fact, we can place most other types of metals in the same single-stream bin that we throw steel into. Let’s take a look at the other options you have.
Aluminum is one of the most commonly used metals in the country because of how cheap and easy it is to manufacture. Pretty much any can you grab in the supermarket is made of aluminum.
Aluminum is infinitely recyclable, and believe it or not, 75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today. So just remove the packing and label of your can, rinse it out in the sink, and then toss it in your recycling bin to make a positive difference on the planet.
Since aluminum can take 200-500 years to decompose, recycling is definitely the go-to move when possible.
Copper, similar to steel, is also 100% recyclable. It’s one of few materials that can be infinitely recyclable, meaning that no matter how many times it is melted down and reused, it won’t lose any performance.
This is good news for your old copper wires or electronics that contain copper parts, as copper is estimated to take hundreds to thousands of years to decompose in a landfill.
Brass has the ability to be recycled an infinite number of times. Since it doesn’t lose its chemical or physical properties in the process, it can be reused forever without any loss of performance.
This is especially good because brass as a metal is rather costly. By recycling, vendors are able to sell brass at a lower price. Not to mention, you might be able to sell your brass products for a super high price to someone else, rather than needing to recycle them in the first place. Reusing is always a better method than recycling whenever you’re able.
If your golden chalices or necklaces just aren’t cutting it in your royal household, you can feel free to recycle them. This is another infinitely recyclable metal that will never degrade in quality no matter how many times it is melted down. It can be recycled and repurposed without the need for any new mining.
Of course, you can probably sell your gold pieces for a pretty hefty price tag to a hot bidder or a secondhand shop, which can benefit you financially in ways that recycling just can’t. Gold can last for hundreds of years in a landfill, so finding healthy ways to get rid of it is essential.
Silver is another highly recyclable metal that you can keep melting down and repurposing forever and ever. With that said, different types of silvers have different melting points.
For that reason, you should take all silver products to a metal recycling plant rather than placing them in your curbside bin, just to ensure that it all gets sent to the right place.
The Bottom Line
Steel is an infinitely recyclable metal that can be melted down and repurposed forever. First, it’s collected, then sorted using high-powered magnets, and finally melted down. After that, the resulting melted sheets get cut, rolled, or solidified for specific manufacturing uses.
Other metals like aluminum, copper, gold, and silver are all recyclable as well. With that said, reusing and repurposing your metals is always a better bet, as it ensures not a single more ounce of energy is used to process your metal into something else.
We’re working to help save the planet bit by bit. Learn more about how you can take major steps towards a plastic-free lifestyle.