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Stainless Steel – Recyclable & Sustainable

Recyclable and Sustainable Stainless Steel

Since 1915 when stainless steel was first introduced, stainless steel has been selected for countless applications across a wide array of industries due to its excellent mechanical and corrosion properties.

Now, as more and more emphasis is placed on choosing materials that are sustainable, stainless steel is also gaining significant recognition due to its outstanding environmental properties.   Stainless steel is 100% recyclable, is typically able to meet the lifetime requirements for a project, and has outstanding end of life recapture rates.  In addition, it is important to recognize that while difficult choices must often be made between implementing green solutions and implementing cost effective solutions, stainless steel solutions frequently offer the luxury of providing both.

Recyclable Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel is 100% recyclable, with no degradation. The process for recycling stainless steel is identical to the process for producing stainless steel.  Furthermore, stainless steel is made up of many raw materials, including iron, nickel, chromium, and molybdenum, which are in high demand.   All of these factors combine to make it very cost effective to recycle stainless steel, and have consequently, led to extremely high recapture rates.  A recent study by the International Stainless Steel Forum (ISSF) determined that about 92% of the stainless steel used in architecture, building and construction applications around the world is recaptured and recycled at the end of service.[1]

In 2002, the ISSF estimated the typical recycled content of stainless steels at about 60%. In some cases this is higher.  The Specialty Steel Industry of North America (SSINA) states that 300 series stainless steels produced in North America have a post-consumer recycled content of 75 to 85%.[2] While these numbers are very good, it is important to note the reason that they are not even higher.  Stainless steel tends to have a long lifetime in most applications. Also, the demand for stainless steel is higher today than in the past.   Thus, despite the high recapture rates for stainless steel, there is just not enough end of life stainless steel in the current pipeline to keep up with today’s production demands.i   This is an excellent problem to have, and helps ensure that new stainless steel that goes into production today will be recycled in the future.

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