Sustainable Steel and the Environment
Steel is one of the most sustainable construction materials. Its strength and durability coupled with its ability to be recycled, again and again, without ever losing quality make it truly compatible with long-term sustainable development. Steel is the world’s most recycled material. In 2013 alone, 81 million tonnes of steel were recycled in North America. Each year, more steel by weight is recycled in North America than paper, plastic, aluminum and glass combined.
- The North American steel industry has continually improved its energy use and levels of greenhouse gas emissions, achieving a 32% reduction in energy intensity and a 37% reduction in GHG intensity since 1990.
- All North American steel products have a significant amount of recycled content, including some products with more than 90 percent.
- Today, 97 percent of steel by-products are re-used. The overall recycling rate for steel from all industries combined is 81 percent, with some construction segments reporting values as high as 98%.
- While other building materials can only be recycled into a lower quality product (down-cycled), steel can be recycled over and over again and remade into new products (multi-cycled) without any loss of quality. This makes it the first and only true cradle-to-cradle building material.
- As part of a holistic approach, use of steel components can contribute to obtaining over 50 LEED points for building owners seeking certification under LEED Canada NC 2009.
- The steel industry has superior water resource management with a 95% water recycling rate with no external discharges.
- Every ton of steel recycled conserves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone.
- The use of steel building components generates very little on-site waste, since components are manufactured to tight tolerances prior to being delivered to the building site. Any on-site steel waste generated can be readily sent for recycling or reuse.
Through recycling, the steel industry saves the energy equivalent to power 20 million homes for one year.
"Steel is the smartest choice for the design and construction of truly sustainable buildings. The inherent strength and durability of steel products, combined with their ability to be continually recycled, means they meet the very definition of sustainability."
- MARK A. THIMONS - VICE PRESIDENT, SUSTAINABILITY - STEEL MARKET DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTE