Cradle to Cradle: The Recyclability of Steel

Steel is one of the most important, most in demand resources, especially in construction where it currently has an irreplaceable role, being used to some extent in almost every area of a building from the structure to the building envelope.  Between 1950 and 2018 the worldwide production of crude steel grew from 189 to 1,808 million tonnes  – more than a 900 percent increase in less than 70 years. Currently more than half of the world’s steel is used for buildings and infrastructure  and with the global population expected to reach 8.6 billion by 2030 and 9.8 billion by 2050  the need will continue to increase as urban areas expand.

However, steel is also one of the most recyclable and recycled materials. One of the key properties of steel is that, unlike other materials such as some plastics, it can be melted down and reused indefinitely without any degradation in its quality. The high level of demand means that it is valuable and as such, cost effective to recycle. It is also easy to sort and reclaim in large quantities because it can be easily separated from other metals using magnets. Since 1900 over 25 billion tonnes of steel have been recycled worldwide.

In addition to optimising the use of finite resources, there are also significant environmental benefits. It is estimated that each tonne of recycled steel saves more than 1,400 kg of iron ore, 740 kg of coal and 120 kg of limestone.  It also requires far less energy and water to recycle scrap than produce virgin steel. This means that products manufactured using recycled steel have a much lower environmental impact.

When choosing building products for a project it is also important to look at the sustainability and environmental policies of the manufacturer. For example, Catnic has achieved the ISO 14001 standard for environmental management and its products are manufactured in line with BES 6001 Responsible Sourcing standards. This maximises the potential for securing credits under the Responsible Sourcing of Materials sections of BREEAM, the Code for Sustainable Homes and CEEQUAL.