Steel is very sustainable because once it is made, it can be used forever. Steel can be recycled an infinite amount of times and be used with NO downgrading in quality. 

The non-renewable resources used to make steel, like minerals and fossil fuels, are not wasted because the steel will be used forever.

Is steel environmentally friendly?

Yes, because once steel is produced, it’s lifecycle is potentially endless. As long as it is recovered after each product’s life cycle, it is a permanent resource in society.

Steel is 100% recyclable and is easily recovered by magnetic separation.

There are two main sources of recycled steel, also called steel scrap:

  1. Pre-consumer scrap: excess material from steel production downstream manufacturing
    1. 100% of scrap from steel production and downstream processing is collected and recycled directly into steel production
  2. Post-consumer scrap: steel at the end of a product’s life
    1. Post-consumer scrap has to be collected and prepared (for example by shredding and baling). Because of the high value of steel scrap, there are also economic incentives that help to maintain high recycling levels

Steel is the most recycled industrial material in the world, with over 500 metric tonnes recycled annually, including pre- and post-consumer scrap.

Is steel sustainable in construction?

Yes, it is. Steel is amongst some of the materials that are certified under the Green Buildings Rating System. Such as International Green Construction Code (IgCC) and USGBC’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) just to name a couple of sustainable certifications steel possesses.

Furthermore,

Steelmakers around the world are increasingly offering intelligent steel construction solutions that enable energy-efficient and low-carbon-neutral buildings. These solutions are highly material efficient and recyclable. They reduce the environmental impacts over the structures’ life cycle and help to extend their life span through design for disassembly and reuse. These steel solutions not only improve the environmental performance of buildings, they also provide other benefits such as affordability and faster, safer and less noisy construction.

What is the most sustainable metal?

Arguably, steel is the most sustainable metal. This is because:

  • Steel is the most recycled material in the world
  • Steel is not consumed because once made, it will be used again and again
  • Steel is the only truly cradle-to-cradle recycled material

life cycle of steel

Is steel renewable?

Steel is NOT a renewable resource. A nonrenewable resource cannot be naturally replaced. Typically, nonrenewable resources are found in the ground, such as rocks, fossil fuels and minerals. Once they are depleted, they are gone forever. Steel is made from these fossil fuels and minerals.

 

 

steel inforgraphic

To sum up, steel is a sustainable metal, as long as it is recycled and there are facilities set up to properly recycle it. Like so many other materials, sustainability is only as good as the recycling program used.

Steel is one of the most eco-friendly materials because:

  1. Due to its strength, you don’t need a lot to do the job
  2. It’s endlessly recyclable – some steel mills only use scrap to produce new steel
  3. There’s relatively little energy used to produce it
  4. The waste it produces is reusable
  5. It’s not toxic to humans or the environment

If this topic interests you, check out my extensive article on food grade stainless steel here.

Are there other topics like this you would like me to explore? Let me know in the comments below.

Cheers, and have an awesome day!

 

5 Comments

  1. riss

    Burning natural resources (coal) is the part that makes steel sustainable. Yes, after it’s burned to produce steel it will be utilized for generations but if the steel industry continues to burn natural resources that are meant to remain beneath Earth’s surface, the released carbon will become trapped in Earth’s atmosphere. The Earth is already over heating and causing a decline in biodiversity making it virtually impossible for Earth to maintain ecological balance. The organisms that consume and clean carbon cannot keep up with industry emissions. So yes, we can re-use steel for generations but the Earth will not be here to use it on.

    Reply
    • Kathy

      Thanks for your comment. I guess there are always trade-offs to be had.

      Reply
  2. Ben

    Steel production and recycling can easily be done using renewable sources.

    Charcoal is 100% renewable and can and has been used as a source of carbon and/or heat for smelting.

    Further, steel can be melted using electrical furnaces powered by renewable sources.

    The closest steel mill to where I live has a surprisingly low carbon footprint. They use electrical arc furnaces powered by hydroelectric power, and because they mainly reprocess existing scrap steel, that minimizes further inputs. I’m pretty sure the largest component of their operation that isn’t sustainable is oil consumed by transportation.

    The only part of the process that couldn’t be made entirely renewable is obtaining the initial metal bearing ore, which must be mined.

    And even then, steel is infinitely recyclable, and nearly 70% of of new steel products produce each year are sourced from from scrap metal instead of fresh ore.

    Also “meant to remain beneath the earth’s surface” isn’t an valid argument, it’s the logical equivalent to “because I said so”.
    It’s a statement of belief not fact, and isn’t going to persuade anyone who doesn’t already share your opinion.

    MY opinion is that psuedo-religious beliefs and moral panic attitudes have done considerable harm to the environmental movement from within, and are actively preventing progress from being made towards solving the very real environmental crises that are imminent.

    For example, the fact that entire generations of environmentalists have acted to stifle the expansion of carbon neutral energy sources. Opposing both hydroelectric and nuclear power, as well as continued opposition to installations of wind turbines and solar farms.

    The phrase “perfect is the enemy of good” definitely applies here.

    Was getting the Connecticut Yankee nuclear reactor shut down in 2015 REALLY worth burning an extra MILLION TONS of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year to replace it?
    Because that was the actual real result of that decision, despite Bernie Sanders not believing that it happened.

    Similarly, using metals as a structural material instead of a “renewable” material such as wood, has to take into consideration that wooden construction at present uses vast amounts of petroleum sourced glues and sealants.

    If the wood a “sustainable” housing project is soaked inside and out in phenolic resins and then sheathed in plastic siding and asphalt roofing materials, is it really sustainable, or is it just a pointless feel-good sales tactic.

    Metal roof panels in particular, are outright the most environmentally sustainable roof material option in hot climates according to US government studies. Their heat reflectivity dramatically reducing energy costs, and their potential lifespan of 60 years or more between replacement and near 100% recyclability more than offsets any initial increased impact.
    The only issue is their high initial cost, which requiring installation on buildings expected to last a long time in order to be economically viable.

    Reply
    • Kathy

      Thank you for your comment! Very interesting and relevant.

      Reply
    • Georgia Twentyman

      I would love to talk to you about where you got your information from as I am currently working on my own university project on the sustainability of steel construction. Please email me at any time.

      Reply

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