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A quarter century of promoting and sustaining steel recycling

Steel Recycling Institute turns 25 with over one billion tons of steel recycled

A quarter century of promoting and sustaining steel recycling

by Keith Barker, Editor, Recycling Product News  

The Steel Recycling Institute (SRI) was established in 1988 as the Steel Can Recycling Institute. With headquarters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the association was founded by eight North American companies: Bethlehem Steel, DOFASCO, LTV Steel, National Steel, Stelco Steel, US Steel, Weirton Steel, and Wheeling Pittsburgh, along with the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI). 

As a not-for-profit trade association commissioned by the North American steel industry, SRI set out to develop an infrastructure for the recycling of steel cans and serve as a primary information and technical resource. SRI`s mission, put simply: promoting and sustaining steel can recycling. The organization’s initial focus was a grassroots effort to implement steel can recycling in communities across North America.

Regional offices worked directly with public recycling offices, private recyclers, haulers, ferrous scrap dealers, end markets and others who were involved in steel recycling. The headquarters office coordinated the development of recycling operations, government affairs, marketing and public relations, and in 1992, an office was established in Washington, DC to monitor federal legislation. By the spring of 1993, SRI expanded its focus to encompass the recycling of all steel products – taking on its current name.

According to SRI, in the past 25 years, more than one billion tons of steel has been recycled by the North American steel industry. Today, the organization continues its grassroots efforts by working directly with the public and private sectors to further expand and grow steel recycling. SRI is also an active business unit of the AISI, building environmental preference for steel through credibly communicating its sustainable advancements, and credibly documenting its superior environmental performance through rigorous life cycle studies.

“For a quarter century, SRI has been the local face of the steel industry, providing advocacy, information and assistance in facilitating increases in the recycling of major products, including cans, cars, appliances and construction materials,” comments Gregory L. Crawford, executive director of SRI. “Since its inception in 1988, SRI has served as a driving force behind growing the availability of a key resource for steelmaking processes – steel scrap.” 

Crawford says the industry in the U.S. has gone through a metamorphosis since about 1998, whereby the process of becoming more efficient and the advancement of technology have come together to make it the highly cost-efficient industry it is today. He points to today’s steel making furnaces combined with modern technology as key to having allowed the industry to make better steel than ever before, at less cost. And by using more scrap in the process, he says, it further helps reduce those costs.

“The steel industry’s appetite for scrap continues to increase,” says Crawford. “The steel industry is using more scrap in proportion to the overall steel being made, than it has in the past. Steel has always been recycled, but now more so than ever. In modern steel making, whether using a basic oxygen furnace or an electric arc furnace, the industry is optimizing the use of scrap steel in making products.”  

Impressive numbers
To track the success of the industry’s recycling efforts, each year, SRI calculates the recycling rates for steel and major steel products. Recycling rates for steel are generally released up to 18 months following the end of the calendar year as they are based on data released from a collection of sources: AISI Annual Statistical Reports, US Geological Survey, EPA Characterization of Municipal Solid Waste, National Automobile Dealers Association, Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.

According to SRI, while recycling rates for steel products continue to increase, the most impressive figure to come out of the 2012 numbers is the 2012 North American overall steel recycling rate of 88 percent. Not to mention the fact that for more than half a century, this rate has exceeded 50 percent.  Within the rate of 88 percent overall steel recycled is included more than 1.3 million tons of tin plate steel – the equivalent of 21 billion steel cans, recycled at a rate of 72 percent, the highest among packaging materials.

Also according to SRI, more than 16.3 million tons of automotive scrap were recycled at a rate of 92.5 percent in 2012 – the equivalent of 11.5 million automobiles.  Other rates from SRI’s calculations, including appliance and construction products, are based on industry estimates of retail and scrap collections, including the more than 2.7 million tons of appliance steel recycled in 2012, at an estimated 90 percent. SRI adds that each year, based on construction and demolition industry estimates, about 98 percent of out-of-service construction plates and beams are recycled, and 70 percent of rebar and other structural steel are captured for recycling through demolition and disassembly.

SRI says the commitment to collect and recycle steel has been inherent to steelmaking for nearly as long as steel has been made in North America, and it is reflected through the established practice of external scrap collection for recycling and by extensive recycling of the by-products created by the steelmaking process.  

“Our company, along with the entire steel industry, has a long history in recycling steel,” states Ronald Kostyo, Vice President and General Manager, Severstal Dearborn. “We recycle many of our by-products such as slag and blast furnace gas and are committed to continue to look for additional recycling opportunities.”

Definitely, the North American steel industry’s recycling accomplishments are at the core of other environmental advances. Since 1990, the industry has improved its energy efficiency per ton by 27 percent and has decreased its CO2 emissions per ton by 33 percent – giving North American steel the designation of being a truly environmentally-friendly material which aids its buyers in improving the environmental performance of their products.

“The steel industry’s internationally-recognized energy efficiency, coupled with the recycling rate that is the highest of any material, proves our commitment to sustainability and resource conservation,” said Thomas J. Gibson, president and CEO of AISI. “For 25 years, steel’s recycling successes have been spearheaded by the SRI and we look forward to another quarter century, where steel leads social, economic and environmental advances.”   The future for steel “There is going to be quite a few enhancements in the marketplace,” says Crawford.

“The steel industry has a sustainability vision and that vision is that steel is widely recognized as a material that augments the well-being of people and the planet. The only way to achieve that vision is through bold new work, which is underway at this time, in the overall arena of sustainability.

“Sustainability is perhaps a word that is overused in the marketplace these days, but the way that we work toward sustainability in the steel industry starts with the concept and practice of recycling.

“We really need to let people know about the remarkable achievements that come from recycling scrap steel into new steel,” Crawford continues. “It’s a perpetual cycle, and as we move forward, the technology is not just about making steel with modern furnaces, but it’s about the whole idea that the technology is changing behind the scenes.

“There’s a very bright future ahead for steel.”