Since 1988, North America has recycled more than 1 billion tons of steel, according to a report from the Steel Recycling Institute, a trade organization that tracks recycling trends. It also states that steel is the region’s most recycled material and more of it is recycled than aluminum, paper, glass, and plastic combined. Steel has the advantage of being relatively easy to reclaim from the waste stream using magnets. Recycled steel is also valuable in that it can be continuously reused without losing its material properties.
This year alone, over 55 million tons of steel have been recycled, while only 37 million tons of paper, 3 million tons of aluminum, and 2 million tons of glass and plastic were pulled from the waste stream. Last year, the overall recycling rate for steel was 88% with nearly 84 million tons of steel recycled. This included more than 1.3 million tons of tin plate steel, the equivalent of 21 billion steel cans, enough to reach to the Moon and back seven times. The steel used in cans was recycled at a rate of 72%, the highest recycling rate for any packaging material.
More than 16.3 million tons of automotive scrap was recycled at a rate of 92.5%, enough to build 11.5 million automobiles. About 90% of the steel (2.7 million tons) used in appliances last year was also recycled. And the construction and demolition industry estimates it recycled 98% of out-of-service construction plates and beams and 70% of the rebar and other structural steel it used.
Between 1990 and 2010, as a result of recycling, the North American steel industry cut its carbon use by 33% and energy use by 27%. That’s enough to power 20 million homes for one year. Each ton of steel recycled also conserves 2,500 lb. of iron ore, 1,400 lb. of coal, and 120 lb. of limestone.
Click to view recycling rates from 1988-2012.