As one of the most popular construction and manufacturing materials around, stainless steel is common in a range of industries.
It’s unique stainless qualities and outstanding durability make it useful in everything from construction to medical instruments.
But what happens after stainless steel reaches its end of life?
Can you recycle stainless steel?
Yes… In fact, it’s one of the major benefits of stainless aside from its physical properties.
How is Stainless Steel Recycled?
Stainless steel scrap falls into one of two categories:
- Reclaimed scrap (also known as old scrap)
- Industrial scrap (also known as new scrap)
Reclaimed scrap comes from finished products — such as chemical tanks, structural elements, or equipment — or the structural remains of demolition. It’s often seen use already. Hence the alternate name: old scrap.
Industrial scrap is the trimmings and excess from manufacturing, fabrication, or construction. The leftover pieces of sheet, the trimmed rods, and other bits of waste from using stainless as a production material. It’s not used, it’s just no longer useful in its current form. Hence the alternate name: new scrap.
While you can recycle stainless steel in any quantity, it’s often most cost-efficient to collect it in stainless steel bins or store scrap until you have enough for collection from a recycling service.
They’ll then take your scrap back to their facility and shred it, sorting the smaller pieces by makeup to create new alloys or further processing the scrap for other needs.
Benefits of Recycling Stainless Steel
Environmental concerns are a big part of today’s economy. Recycling is an accessible way for businesses and industries to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to helping the environment.
However, using recyclable materials isn’t just eco-friendly — it’s cost-effective.
According to research published in 2006 from the British Stainless Steel Association, recycling accounted for savings of nearly 33% of the energy used in current austenitic stainless-steel production worldwide.
In a perfect scenario — in which all stainless came from 100% recycled stainless — global energy consumption used in stainless steel production would drop a further 51%.
Since recycling stainless steel does not cause degradation, the amount of recycled content in stainless is often a matter of scrap availability.
More scrap availability means less pollution, reduced energy requirements, and lower costs — for both producers and buyers of stainless steel.
It’s a win-win.
Stainless Steel Recycling Prices
The prices recycling centres pay for scrap will depend on the market price for stainless steel.
A range of factors influence pricing, including the current economy, industrial demand, scrap condition, and the stainless steel alloy in question.
However, stainless steel scrap — even of lower-end alloys — is always in demand. So it’s often worth your time and effort to recycle any stainless steel scrap your business might produce.
Demand stays high because recycled stainless scrap comprises up to 60% of new stainless steel (source).
In fact, you can make “new stainless” from 100% recycled scrap. But there is rarely enough scrap to use because stainless steel is so durable.
Since stainless takes so long to reach the end of its useful life, it may take decades for scrap to find its way to a recycling centre.
This means that whether you’re collecting scrap from manufacturing and fabrication, cleaning up a demolition site, or looking to dispose of old or outdated equipment, stainless steel is worth recycling — both from an ecological and financial standpoint.
Curious to learn more about stainless steel recycling?
You can check out these guides and resources for additional information about the benefits and process of stainless steel recycling:
The experts at Unified Alloys have handled the stainless steel needs of industries across Canada for more than 40 years. If you have a question about stainless steel and how it might meet the needs of your next project, call to discuss your needs with a member of our team.