The Surprising Sustainability of Steel

As you may have guessed, we are big fans of steel. And as big fans of our amazing planet, we remain big fans of steel.

When it comes to recycling, steel products can’t be touched. Steel ranks as the world’s most recycled material. In fact, the American Iron & Steel Institutes indicate that the overall recycle rate of steel in 2012 was 88%. That’s a pretty darn good number.

Indeed, the scrap metal industry in South Africa is booming, currently worth between R15 and R20 billion a year, according to the Metals Recycling Association of South Africa. Bernard Maguire, Executive Committee member of the MRA, comments that the industry employs around 15 000 people in the formal sector and around 440 000 in the informal sector.

What makes steel such a popular choice for recycling?

With steel enjoying such a range of uses, the sources of scrap are plentiful. Home scrap in the form of cans, appliances and other packaging is readily available. Prompt scrap, or scrap that is produced from manufacturing steel products, is also readily available, although less so than home scrap. And of course, Obsolete scrap is available from products that have reached the end of their life span, but because of the durability of steel, this can take many years to become accessible for recycling. This would take the form of steel superstructures from old buildings, automobiles, ships, bridges and the like.

Steel maintains its strength and integrity when recycled, which makes it a popular choice in manufacturing. It can be used again and again with no structural breakdown.

So why don’t we use recycled steel for all new products?

Simply put, there isn’t enough. Recycling equates to approximately two-thirds of steel use, but due to high demand and burgeoning industries, the final third is made up of virgin material.

We encourage all our readers to actively support the recycling of this valuable material which is a cheaper and more sustainable option to virgin steel.

A good deal of South Africa’s recycled steel comes from informal waste collectors. By squirrelling away steel and other recyclable metals and selling them to scrap metal dealers, they prevent a lot of valuable steel from ending up in landfills or dumps.

But we can all do our part to keep this treasured commodity in circulation in South Africa.