Lightweight aluminum and magnesium alloys are fast replacing traditional steel components in newer car and airplane designs. Another trend right now is the use of recycled aluminum. Using recycled aluminum is over 90% more energy efficient than using mined material. And because of this, companies are moving to recycled aluminum to improve their ‘green’ status. For example, Apple is promoting some of their products as using 100% recycled aluminum.
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The use of scrap metal has become an integral part of the modern steelmaking industry, improving the industry’s economic viability and reducing environmental impact. Steel is the world’s most important engineering and construction material and can be recycled over and over again without loss of property. Compared to ore extraction, the use of secondary ferrous metal significantly reduces CO2 emissions, energy and water consumption and air pollution. At the same time, the recycling of steel makes more efficient use of the earth’s natural resources.
In general, metal recycling is a pyramid industry with many small companies at the bottom feeding scrap to large multi-nationals at the top. Steel recycling involves some, or all, of the following steps:
Sorting: Magnets attract steel and so, through the use of magnetic belts, this metal can be easily separated from other recyclables such as paper in a recycling facility. Different kinds of steel do not need to be separated.
Shredding: Shredders incorporate rotating magnetic drums to extract iron and steel from the mixture of metals and other materials.
Media separation: Further separation is achieved using electrical currents, high-pressure air flows and liquid flotation systems.
Shearing: Hydraulic machinery capable of exerting enormous pressure is used to cut thick, heavy steel recovered from, for example, railways and ships. Other cutting techniques, such as the use of gas and plasma arc torches, are sometimes employed.
Baling: Iron and steel products are compacted into large blocks to facilitate handling and transportation.
- Almost 40% of the world’s steel production is made from scrap.
- Recycling one tonne of steel saves 1,100 kilogrammes of iron ore, 630 kilogrammes of coal, and 55 kilogrammes of limestone.
- CO2 emissions are reduced by 58% through the use of ferrous scrap.
- Recycling one tonne of steel saves 642 kWh of energy, 1.8 barrels (287 litres) of oil, 10.9 million Btu’s of energy and 2.3 cubic metres of landfill space.
- Recycling steel uses 75% less energy compared to creating steel from raw materials – enough to power 18 million homes.
- Steel recycling uses 74% less energy, 90% less virgin materials and 40% less water; it also produces 76% fewer water pollutants, 86% fewer air pollutants and 97% less mining waste.
- Steel automobile frames contain at least 25% recycled steel and a typical electrical appliance will usually be made of 75% recycled steel. Steel cans consist of at least 25% recycled steel.
- Recycling one tonne of steel saves 1100 kg of iron ore, 630 kg of coal and 55 kg of limestone.
- Recycling one tonne of steel saves 642 kWh of energy, 1.8 barrels (287 litres) of oil and 2.3 cubic metres of landfill space.
- Every tonne of steel made from recycled scrap saves enough energy to power four homes for a whole year.
- Steel recycling uses 74% less energy, 90% less virgin material and 40% less water; it also produces 76% fewer water pollutants, 86% fewer air pollutants and 97% less mining waste.
- A BIR-commissioned study conducted by Imperial College London has concluded that CO2 emissions are reduced by 58% when using ferrous scrap in steelmaking rather than virgin ore.
The metal recycling industry has an efficient structure with numerous small companies purchasing scrap material and feeding this to highly-effective larger international businesses.
Non-ferrous metal recycling involves some, or all, of the following steps:
Sorting and dismantling: In order to be recycled appropriately, different types of non-ferrous metals need to be separated from each other, as well as from other recyclables such as paper and plastic.
Baling: Non-ferrous materials are compacted into large blocks to facilitate handling and transportation
Shearing: Hydraulic machinery capable of exerting enormous pressure is used to cut metals into manageable sizes
Shredding: Shredders incorporate rotating magnetic drums to separate non-ferrous from ferrous metals.
Further separation: This is achieved using electrical currents, high-pressure air flows and liquid flotation/media separation systems. More processing may be needed.
Melting: The recovered materials are melted down in a furnace, poured into casters and shaped into ingots. These ingots are either used in the foundry industry or they can be transformed into flat sheets and other wrought products such as tubing, which are then used to manufacture new products.
The most commonly used non-ferrous metals are aluminium, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, titanium, cobalt, chromium and precious metals. Millions of tonnes of non-ferrous scrap are recovered annually and used by smelters, refiners, ingot makers, foundries and other manufacturers. Secondary materials are essential to the industry’s survival because even new metals often require the combined use of recycled materials.
According to several estimates, the recycled non-ferrous metals market as a whole was worth more than US$ 90 billion in 2018.
Aluminium, which is the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust, is one of the most recycled materials. Recovering aluminium for recycling is not only economically viable, but energy efficient and ecologically sound.
Owing to the limited availability of non-ferrous metals, the unrestricted flow of scrap from country to country according to industrial and consumer demand is crucial. BIR has consistently campaigned for the free movement of secondary raw materials to avoid shortages in certain geographical areas and surpluses in others. Import barriers could limit the supply to the manufacturing industry in some countries.
BIR’s major study entitled “Review of Global Non-Ferrous Scrap Flows” focuses on copper and aluminium. Owing to the industrial importance of both metals, there are very few countries in the world which do not trade in aluminium scrap or in copper/copper alloy scrap. The research reveals that scrap usage for copper – both for secondary refined copper production and direct use of scrap – increased worldwide by 41% from 5.9 million tonnes in 2000 to 8.3 million tonnes in 2015 (worth around US$ 46 billion at that time). Production of aluminium from scrap increased by 86% from 8.4 million tonnes in 2000 to 15.6 million tonnes in 2015 (worth around US$ 26 billion at that time).
What is Included
Die cast / zinc
Insulated aluminum wire
Insulated copper wire
Lead acid batteries
Titanium and high temperature alloys