2018 Ferrous Metal Recycling Sees Strong Growth

Ferrous scrap metal — all the metals that include iron — is of growing importance to the development of a more sustainable economy. It is the most-recycled material in the world, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), which tracks industry statistics. The U.S. processed 66 billion tons of ferrous scrap worth $15.9 billion in 2017. Last year, despite China’s ban on most scrap imports, the U.S. actually increased ferrous metals exports by about 24 percent to $19.7 billion, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). 

Steel is an essential ingredient of the modern world. It is in bridges, cars, train tracks, trains, planes, buildings, and even water bottles. Every country wants more steel. And more are ready to pay for it because recycling steel takes less fuel, which leads to lower costs and fewer CO2 emissions. Steel recycling uses 60 percent less energy than making steel from raw iron ore. 

While the U.S. exports more steel and ferrous scrap than any other country, most of the materials could be used at home if the recycling industry can evolve to process more metal domestically. Capturing scrap metal for recycling is more successful than recycling as a whole, as well, with almost 100 percent of automobiles, 98 percent of structural steel, and 71 percent of rebar and reinforcement steel going to reuse as of 2014. Today, 60 percent of steel used in new products by U.S. companies is recycled.

Steel scrap is also a valuable commodity for local recyclers, currently selling for $339 to $1,086 a ton in the U.S., depending on the type. Five million tons more ferrous scrap was wrangled by U.S. recyclers in 2018 than 2017. And there is no sign that industry’s appetite will abate. The USGS predicts that demand will only rise.

The sustainability question revolves around how to capture more scrap metal and increase processing rates to reduce the carbon footprint of many industries. To learn more about how to participate in ferrous metal recycling or to start a business, visit ISRI. Also, consider joining Earth911 at ISRI’s Residential Recycling Summit on April 10 and 11, 2019 in Los Angeles. Are you the visionary who will reinvent your local recycling system?

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