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Steel's contribution to a low carbon Europe 2050 (BCG)
Steel recycling: old made new
The steel industry is the world champion in closing material cycles. This is true for both, the material steel itself and the by-products created during production – used, for example as raw materials, building materials or fertiliser.
Steel is a material that can be recycled again and again without loss. The steel industry in Germany alone uses more than 20 million tonnes of iron and steel scrap to manufacture new products. The question “What is a typical steel recycling product?” is easily answered: every steel product is a typical recycling product; one only needs to look around.
A car contains steel that was a washing machine, a bicycle or a can in a previous life. Almost all steel scrap is collected everywhere and is entirely used for recycling. Because there is no loss of quality, also recycling products can be recycled again and again – a never-ending story. This is ‘multiple-recycling’: one tonne of steel, after being recycled six times for example, can result in a total of four tonnes of new steel products.
World recycling champion: steel
Steel is the world’s most recycled material. Almost every country has steelworks that reuse discarded steel products in the production process. Collection and preparation is carried out by numerous firms in the scrap recycling industry with the necessary equipment, e.g. scrap presses, scrap shears, and shredders.
Comprehensive recycling of by-products
The by-products of the steel industry are also returned to the material cycle. Metallurgical slags are used, for example, in the cement industry and for building roads. Fertilisers are also important by-products of the steel industry, and iron oxide is used as a pigment in the paint industry and as magnetic material for hard disks. Tar is a by-product of coke production and is used for building roads.
Resource conservation in steel production
The total of over 30 million tonnes of materials recycled by the German steel industry alone makes a very substantial contribution towards conserving natural resources. Each tonne of iron or steel scrap used prevents the mining of 1.5 tonnes of iron ore. Metallurgical slags replace limestone, gravel and other natural materials. The use of by-products and secondary raw materials must also be taken more into account by politicians in order to increase resource efficiency.
Lower CO2 emissions by steel recycling
In addition to saving energy and resources, steel recycling also helps to prevent emissions such as the greenhouse gas CO2. The use of one tonne of steel scrap prevents emissions of the same amount of CO2. More than 20 million tonnes of CO2 emissions are prevented each year thanks to steel recycling in Germany – as much as Berlin emits in a year.