Monday, October 3, 1994

Turning Old Into New: Steel is a Winner for C&D Recycling, Residential Construction and Buy Recycled

Erector Sets, Lincoln Logs, Lego Blocks. The building blocks of our architectural imaginations. As children, we constructed beautiful homes, structural marvels, space stations and historic buildings. But just as real structures meet their end at the hand of excavators, so too did our childish creations. Our carefully assembly was marred by ultimate destruction. We unscrewed the bolts, pulled log from log, detached Lego block from Lego block, and we were left with a pile of two or here or maybe four different sizes, colors or types of materials. It was easy to separate and reuse.

Reusing and recycling was easy then. That’s not always true for real demolishers and builders, who are faced with a greater challenge of separating and processing construction and demolition (C&D) materials. This separation challenge results in an overall C&D recycling rate of 10-40 percent, according to an article in Waste Age.

But for steel scrap, that recycling rate may be close to 100 percent, depending on the type of construction. Why?

Magnetic attraction, ease of processing and handling, economic value and recyclability. Once a building has succumbed to the wrath of a wrecking ball or an impressive implosion or, more likely, the destructive force of an excavator’s boom arm, little recognizable is left except for the demolition crew to move the steel scrap to the ground and separate the ferrous from the other materials on or off site, using either a grapple or a magnet. The steel and any nonferrous metals are sold to a local scrap yard, for further processing such as shredding or baling. The steel is than shipped to end markets for recycling.

“You can rest assured that every bit of metal in every structure that is being demolished is being recycled. Even the lightest, smallest piece of metal is being recycled,” said Mike Taylor, executive director of the National Association of Demolition Contractors. “And the more steel used in buildings, the more valuable the construction and demolition scrap is. With today’s steel scrap prices, everybody’s smiling in the demolition industry.”

The Great Attractor

The power of steel’s magnetic attraction must not be overlooked when discussing C&D recycling. It is already clear that magnetic separation makes steel cans an easy commodity to separate, process and handle from community recycling programs. The same is true of other steel recycling. The magnetic quality of ferrous products makes it easy to move steel beams or studs weighing several tons from a C&D site to a waiting truck. But while magnetics greatly contribute to steel recycling, the ferrous scrap processing industry is critical to its success.

The Original Recycler

While he assuredly scoured the streets near the site of the original Madison Square Garden, not everyone remembers the original recycler in New York City. It has been some time since the ragman pushed a cart down the alleyways paying for ferrous scrap. He would sell his collected wares to steel mills, which recycled the scrap into new steel products.

The sheer size and number of C&D projects in the United States produce a considerable amount of material for the modern equivalent of his scrap processing business. In an age of steel skyscrapers and superhighways, the ragman’s scrap yard has bloomed into today’s capital-intensive ferrous recovery operations. More than 1,500 ferrous scrap yards across the country collect or receive steel scrap from C&D sites and other scrap sources; process it by shredding, crushing or baling; then ship it to steel mills for recycling.

In 1993, approximately 66 percent of all the steel produced in the United States was recycled. A great contributor to this recycling rate is steel recovered from C&D sites. Of the 63 million tons of steel scrap recycled last year, about 30 million tons were recovered from C&D. The success of steel recycling began with the development of the recycling infrastructure. Without ferrous scrap processors, the steel industry would never have been able to recycle 50 percent of all the steel produced in the United States in the past 50 years.

Building Buildings with Steel

Floor after floor, the walls shining in the autumn light, the Sears Tower is a tribute to modern architectural design using steel. Towering 1,454 feet and claiming 110 stories, the Sears Tower was constructed 20 years ago with a steel system of nine bundled tubes of different heights, each 75 feet square, with column spaces at 15 feet.

Without steel, the Sears Tower would not be possible.

Steel was first used in the construction of buildings more than 100 years ago. It is the required material for skyscrapers and bridges because its strength and durability make structures such as these possible. The commercial construction
industry recognizes the durability and strength of steel, not only for structural integrity but also for interior framing. Now, the residential industry is also beginning to recognize the value of using steel. Between 1979 and 1992, the number of steel framed homes increased by more than 300 percent. By year-end 1994, it is expected that 40,000 homes will have been built with steel framing.

Steel framing has become popular because of its superior strength-to-weight ratio, cost and consistency. A variety of readily available shapes and sizes makes steel a versatile material that saves time and costs when building new homes. In addition, steel is recyclable and contains recycled steel.

Builders in the United States and Canada are constructing all types of steel homes: multifamily housing developments, retirement homes and single family houses. In the sunbelt, steel is a popular building material because of concerns about termites, decay and hurricanes. Builders in urban areas are using steel because it does not combust. Builders in areas prone to earthquakes are choosing steel because of its resilient strength.

After Destruction, New Steel Construction

Just as children abruptly disassemble their Erector Set, Lincoln Log or Lego creating, so too can the destructive forces of nature damage communities.

From the earthquake in Los Angeles, to the floods in the Midwest, to the hurricanes in the southeastern United States and Hawaii, steel and other recyclable materials were recovered, processed and recycled. Steel scrap, from damaged products, from appliances made useless because of water damage and from containers used by volunteers helping to clean up the disasters, was collected and recycled. These collection and recycling efforts ensured that the natural disasters would not become massive solid waste disasters.

But minimizing solid waste disasters is not all that must be done to assist those communities hit by natural disasters. Many communities need to be totally rebuilt. The 1992 hurricane in south Florida left many families homeless. Since existing steel framed homes withstood the hurricane, some communities are choosing to rebuild with steel. In fact, in order to help those most in need, the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), along with participating steel companies and other groups, is building new steel homes for low income families in Florida City and Homestead, FL.

In Florida City, steel companies are donating more than 1,000 tons of steel for the framing and roofing systems of the homes. The contribution of steel and steel-related products and services to the Andrew Estates Project is estimated to be between $1 million and $1.5 million. In Homestead, steel companies are working with Habitat for Humanity and the National Association of Home Builders to build 200 Homes in Jordan Commons. Members of AISI will provide the steel framing, fasteners, tools, engineering, training and roofing for the project.

Buying Recycled

Builders, just like consumers, are increasingly demanding that products contain recycled material. Fortunately in the case of steel, it’s easy to buy recycled.

Why? Because all steel contains recycled steel. When you buy something made of steel, you’re buying recycled. Obviously, when you build with steel, you build with recycled material. New steel is made with old steel - cars, appliances, cans, construction materials and other recycled steel scrap.

Many states have instituted buy-recycled mandates that require purchasing agents to buy products with recycled content when possible. In addition, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a federal procurement guideline for recycled products. Bridges, guard rails, road signs, fire hydrants, residential and commercial construction materials, cars, trucks, back hoes, desks, file cabinets and cans are some of the many steel products that contain recycled steel and are recyclable again and again.

Saturday, September 3, 1994

Buying Recycled Content Products

Use old to make new. More than 100 years ago, the steel industry in essence adopted this motto when it developed a low-cost means of manufacturing steel: recycling. By incorporating recycling into the steelmaking process, the steel industry created a demand for steel scrap. As the demand for steel production grew, so did the demand for steel scrap.

Over time, and infrastructure of ferrous scrap processors developed to provide steel mills and foundries with out-of-service refrigerators, automobile hulks, construction and demolition debris and remnant manufacturing material. Last year, the infrastructure helped the steel industry recycle approximately 63 million tons of steel and ensures that all steel contains recycled steel. The lesson to be learned here is that when economics drives recycling, recycling happens.

The development of the steel recycling infrastructure and the steel industry’s impressive recycling efforts could serve as a model for the National Recycling Coalition’s Buy Recycled Business Alliance (BRBA), which seeks to develop greater
use of recycled content products and, thus, create more markets for recyclables. Believing that the business community has the buying power to lead the country in purchasing recycled products, the BRBA is committed to increasing member companies’ use of recycled content products.

What is the purpose of the BRBA?

The BRBA is very broad-based in terms of commodities and approached. It primarily encourages the purchasing community incorporate recycled content in the products they buy.

Saturday, August 20, 1994

Time to Set the Standard: An Interview with Members of the Filter Manufacturers Council

Greg Griggs, executive secretary of the FMC, and Tim Warren, environmental manger of filters/electronics for a member company of FMC, AlliedSignal Inc., discuss the issue of oil filter recycling with the editors of The Recycling Magnet.

How often should a car’s oil and filter be changed? Once every three months or 3,000 miles. So well-known is this service station litany that it’s even recognized by those who have never owned a vehicle.

With an estimated 123 million passenger cars crisscrossing America’s network of reads, greater attention is being paid to the disposal of used oil filters. In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ruled that used oil filters are considered solid waste rather than hazardous waste. Since that time, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Texas have introduced more stringent legislation banning the landfilling of used oil filters. Legislation adopted in a fourth state,
California, considers used oil filters hazardous waste unless recycled.

Since it is likely that government regulation of used oil filter management will increase, we wondered what kind of recycling infrastructure presently exists for used oil filters and what is being done to develop it. Undertaking the initiative to develop the infrastructure is the Filter Manufacturers Council (FMC), an organization representing 20 manufacturers of vehicular and industrial filtration products with facilities in the United States. What follows is our interview with Greg Griggs, executive secretary of the FMC, and Tim Warren, environmental manger of filters/electronics for a member company of FMC, AlliedSignal Inc.

With so man service stations and quick oil change centers out there, it seems that the average person rarely comes in contact with oil filters. What are oil filters and are they recyclable?

GG: Nearly every motorized vehicle, from large lawn mowing tractors to automobiles to mining equipment, has an oil filter to remove contaminants and deposits that accumulate in the oil as it circulates through an engine. These filters must be replaced every three months or 3,000 miles to ensure proper functioning. As a result, there are about 400 million used oil filters generated each year in the United States, ranging from small filters about two inches in height for import vehicles to giant filters 17 or 18 inches in height for construction equipment. Fortunately, oil filters are at least 80 percent steel by weight. This steel cartridge or body is what makes the oil filter recyclable. High quality steel is used to make oil filters and, like other steel products, is infinitely recyclable into new steel.

TW: And actually, while the majority of oil filters are commercially installed, about 45 percent of all passenger car filters are sold to consumers who change their own oil. This represents millions of people who have the opportunity to recycle both their used oil and the filter.

What are some of the challenges to developing the used oil filter recycling infrastructure?

TW: Currently, there are no standard specifications for processing used oil filters. Processors use different approaches, ranging from crushing to shredding, to prepare the filter for recycling. In some cases, used oil filters are processed at the generation site and shipped directly to steel mills. In others, the filters are first sent to a secondary processor with specialty equipment, then shipped to end market. Properly processed, oil filters can be a valuable recyclable commodity. Maximizing oil extraction from the filter is the essential processing step.

GG: The whole key here is to determine what form of processed oil filters is most acceptable to steel mills. We are asking the steel companies that supply oil filter manufacturers with steel what level of processing should be performed to best prepare oil filter scrap for recycling. Once we determine what the mills want, we can develop appropriate industry guidelines for oil filter processing.

What kind of recycling infrastructure exists for recycling oil filters?

TW: We are aware of about 700 companies that are possible involved in some level of oil filter recycling. Some of these companies are special processors dealing exclusively with used oil filters. Others are traditional ferrous scrap processors, and still others are recyclers of used oil that also collect filters.

GG: We have created a toll-free hotline/database to encourage the proper management of used oil filters and assist in the development of the oil filter recycling infrastructure. This number, 1-800-99-FILTER (993-4583), is available only to commercial and government generators of used oil filters. The hotline provides callers with information on companies that provide filter management and recycling services as well as summaries of regulations governing the management of used oil filters for the U.S., each of the fifty states, and the Canadian provinces.

How many oil filters are currently being recycled?

GG: Statistics are difficult to obtain because filters enter the solid waste stream in different ways. Some steel mills receive used oil filters with auto shred, and some receive them with the steel recovered from magnetic separation at resource recovery facilities.

TW: We can account for approximately 20 million oil filters that were recycled in 1993, about five percent of all generated. These statistics are derived from mills, such as TAMCO in California, that specifically record how many tons of filters they accept for recycling. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if as many as 20 percent were being recycled right now.

How can recycling coordinators, government officials and others involved in solid waste management help motivate the recycling of oil filters?

TW: Both public and private sector cooperation will be needed to develop an efficient collection system for used oil filters. Certainly, we would like to see government recycling officials become involved in the development of oil filter recycling programs, especially in the area of public education and collection program support. For example, government sponsored recycling programs are already in place in many area for used oil generated by do-it-yourselfers.

GG: Also, it is essential at this stage of infrastructure development that our steel suppliers relay to us their oil filter scrap specifications. Oil filter manufacturers are seeking the responsible disposal of the product they market, as any environmentally-conscious manufacturer should, with recycling being the preferred option.

Wednesday, August 3, 1994

Recycling Steel Appliances

Can one live in a home without appliances? Think about it - refrigerators keep our food fresh, water heaters keep our showers hot, and washers keep our clothes clean. Air conditioners, dryers, ranges, dishwashers, dehumidifiers and freezers are all convenient, time and labor saving appliances we’ve come to depend on.

Fortunately, these appliances are not solid waste problems and it’s unlikely that we’ll ever have to worry about having homes without appliances. All appliances are made with steel and are recyclable. Despite the fact that appliances are bulky and contain various electrical and mechanical parts, they are almost as easy to recycle as steel cans. Many communities have established temporary or permanent collection programs to ensure that appliances do not enter the municipal solid waste stream. In addition, a network of ferrous scrap processors, shredders and steel mills processes and recycles appliances.

Since 1990, the national recycling rate for major home appliances as risen from 32 percent to 62 percent due in part to increased private and public sector awareness and the continuing development of a strong infrastructure for recovery of ferrous scrap from appliances. More than 1.6 million tons of steel was recovered from recycled appliances in 1993.

Processing Steel

By weight, the typical appliance consists of about 75 percent steel, which is largely why 1,600 scrap processors across the country accept them for recycling. Processors typically remove components, such as electric motors, switches and other mechanical parts, from the appliances before recycling. If the appliance contains refrigeration or cooling equipment, refrigerant gases must be captured and recycled. Motors and capacitors are also appropriately handled.

Once dismantled, appliance shells are hoisted onto a conveyor belt, which feeds the appliances to a shredder. Shredded steel is magnetically separated from any remaining material and conveyed into a rail car or truck for shipment to steel mills and foundries. Nonferrous metals, such as copper and aluminum, are sometimes also removed and recycled. The remaining material, referred to as fluff, is accumulated for disposal at landfill or other disposition, such as resource recovery combustion.

Extra Processing Steps

A piece of legislation enacted more than 20 years ago has significantly altered the way appliances are processed today. Originally passed in 1970, the Clean Air Act was America’s first comprehensive legislation to cover emission of pollutants to the air.

The act was later updated to reflect the goals of the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This international agreement was signed by more than 100 nations and requires each country to cut its production of ozone depleting substances in half by 1998. Later, the Protocol was amended to include the complete phaseout of the production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) by the year 1995.

As a result, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has mandated that, prior to recycling or disposal, any refrigerant gases that are deemed as ozone depleting and found in appliances must be captured for recycling. CFCs and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), both considered ozone-depleting coolants, are only found in appliances designed to refrigerate or cool. The CFCs and HCFCs that are reclaimed are cleaned and reused in the maintenance and repair of other units. In some areas, scrap dealers have the CFC removal equipment and certified technicians for these procedures. In other areas, specialty business and scrap dealers provide this service, either independently, or in association with appliance dealers or the local government.

In either case, processors who are involved in the recycling of appliances are responsible for ensuring that the refrigerant gases have been reclaimed.

PCB Capacitors

Appliances often contain capacitors, which are electronic circuit devices for temporary storage of electrical energy.

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a carcinogen, are oily fluids used as electrolytic substances in a small percentage of capacitors produced prior to the year 1979. PCBs were used in some capacitors for air conditioners and microwave ovens and, much less often, for refrigerators and freezers.

The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1968 banned the production and sale of PCBs after 1978 but allowed small capacitors used in household appliances to remain in service. Since the average life span of an appliance is 15 years, less than five percent of all appliances processed for recycling in 1988 contained PCB capacitors, according to the EPA. That small percentage is in all likelihood smaller today as many of these appliances have been disposed of or recycled.

Landfill Bans

As of 1994, to avoid future disposal of appliances in landfills, 19 states banned or planned to ban appliances from landfills. The states initiated the bans in order to extend the life of their landfills and to encourage private industry and the public sector to implement recycling of appliances.

The following states have instituted landfill bans on white goods or have made related appliance rulings: California, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin.

Steps to Setting up an Appliance Recycling Day

Communities interested in promoting awareness of the recyclability of appliances and the proper disposal method should consider developing an appliance recycling day. The steps involved include the following:

(1) Identify a planning committee. A committee might consist of local government, waste haulers, ferrous scrap processors, electric utilities and interested community groups.

(2) Identify a scrap dealer and equipment company to handle and process appliances. If you need help locating either, contact the SRI.

(3) Select the date, time and location for the event. Recommended lead time is at least six months.

(4) Coordinate public awareness. A catchy title (like “Heavy Metal Recycling”) will attract more attention, both from the public and the media. Be sure to send press releases to the media and informational fliers to residents. Consider asking a local utility company to send fliers in monthly bills.

(5) Educate residents about permanent recycling opportunities. To ensure that residents continue to recycle appliances, be sure to promote local companies that regularly collect, process and recycle appliances. When residents know where to take their appliances, they are less likely to dispose of them improperly.

Wednesday, May 25, 1994

Tough to Keep, Easy to Recycle: Houston’s Hazardous Waste Collection Recycles Empty Steel Containers

Some things are tough to part with: a favorite, worn recliner; your first baseball glove; that ragged assortment of under-stuffed animals. From basements to bedroom corners, extra space is found to store these things.

But what’s done with things that are challenging to dispose of or keep, such as partially-full paint cans? The residents of Houston, Texas have found a solution. Several public and private enterprises cooperate to recover, reuse and recycle steel paint cans and their contents. In doing so, the partnership crates several new resources from a single product.

Houston hosts a household hazardous waste collection day once every three months to ensure that paint and paint products, car batteries, pesticides, motor oil and special chemical products are safely removed from the municipal solid waste stream. The program is funded by a grant from the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, the state’s environmental protection agency.

While 60 percent of the items collected are shipped to a special waste landfill or to a facility for combustion, about 40 percent are reused or recycled. Steel paint cans are part of this 40 percent.

“We placed a high priority on keeping material out of landfills. Our residents appreciate the fact that we’re able to recycle many of the products from this collection,” said Gayle Gordon, household hazardous waste project manager for the city. “By seeing how well we could work together to accomplish this, I hope we’ve established a trend for other programs to follow.”

Two organizations cooperate to recycle steel paint cans collected through the program. Personnel from the Houston Paint and coatings Association, which is made up of area manufacturers of paints and coatings, screen the collected paint.

If the paint is determined to be resalable, it is separated into categories and bulked into 55-gallon steel drums. Other reusable paint is also poured into 55-gallon drums and shipped back to factories for reprocessing. After reprocessing, the recovered paint is given away to neighborhood anti-graffiti and housing rehabilitation programs.

Community volunteers scrape out empty steel paint cans to ensure only a thin, dry layer of paint remains. The paint cans are then loaded into a roll-off provided by the Proler Metal Processing Company.

Proler hauls the roll-off back to its yard in Houston, where a high density baler compacts the steel cans. On an average month, Proler processes approximately 25,000 tons of different grades o steel scrap for sale to steel mills for recycling.

Thursday, May 19, 1994

Recycling Beyond the Curbside: Factories, Plants and Shops Recycle Empty Paint and Aerosol Cans

Steel food and beverage can recycling has moved beyond the curbside, beyond the drop-off site, beyond the multimaterial buyback center. It has moved into food service facilities of schools, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, military bases, correctional facilities and other commercial and institutional establishments.

What’s left? Well, for paint and aerosol cans, plenty.

Communities have been adding empty paint and aerosol cans to existing residential recycling programs. And now, businesses like factories, plants and shops are developing recycling programs for paint and aerosol cans.

When residents recycle their paint and aerosol cans, the cans are empty of their product. Empty aerosol cans are simply placed into the recycling bin, while paint cans are collected once the thin skin of paint has dried.

When commercial or institutional establishments use quantities of paint and aerosol cans, several additional processing steps are usually necessary to ensure that the cans are empty prior to recycling.

Good business sense dictates that factories, plants and shops should use up the contents of paint and aerosol cans in order not to waste the product. Smaller businesses can be reasonably ensured of routine emptiness; however, larger operations, especially those with several shifts and multiple work stations, may occasionally not use the product to depletion.

For this reason, scrap dealers and waste haulers may require extra processing steps for commercial paint and aerosol cans.

Before implementing a recycling program, a business should consult with scrap dealers and haulers to determine the logistics of the program, including how to collect, prepare, store and ship the containers to the processor for recycling.

One negotiations are satisfied, the first step in recycling paint and aerosol cans is to collect them in a central location, where their emptiness can be confirmed. At this central location, if paint remains in any of the paint cans or pails, it is manually or mechanically removed, then the cans are usually flattened to save space. Flattening also ensures that the cans or pails are empty. In some cases, they may be baled on site.

For commercial aerosol can recycling (unlike residential), preparation involves puncturing, draining and flattening the case. As the cans are punctured and drained, any residual product is captured for reuse or disposal. Any residual propellant gases are filtered or vented to atmosphere where permitted or, preferably, captured and compressed for other disposition, such as flare-off or use as fuel.

After being emptied, the cans are shipped to processors. Depending on how the steel can collection has been negotiated, the business loads the cans into a roll-off provided and services by a local scrap dealer, who will regularly pick up the cans and other steel scrap.

Alternatively, the business itself may haul the cans to the scrap dealer, or a waste hauler may pick up the cans and take them to a materials recovery facility, where they will be combined with steel cans from residential recycling programs.

The Inside Story of Aerosol cans

Dispenser determines various forms in which product is released, such as the fine spray of furniture polishes and repellents, or the streamlined spray of wasp and hornet killers.

Contents are a combination of ingredients and propellant.

Dip tube reaches down to bottom of container to carry productive to valve.

Curved base allows dip tube to reach and use virtually all the product.

Source: Consumer Aerosol Products Council.

Sunday, May 8, 1994

Collecting the High Hanging Fruit: Saturn Corporation Recycles Empty Steel Paint and Aerosol Cans

Spray paint cans, one-gallon paint cans and five-gallon pails: who would have guessed these are comparable to, say, bananas or coconuts?

Al Hildreth, senior environmental engineer for Saturn Corporation, a subsidiary of General Motors, does just that when he describes how his car company’s paint and aerosol can recycling program came into fruition.

“When the Saturn plant opened in 1990, our first priority was to establish a recycling program for the major elements of our solid waste stream,” said Hildreth. “ Then we looked into the recycling of the fringe elements, the high-hanging fruit so to speak, such as paint and aerosol cans. In 1993, we reached up to pick them out.”

The entire line of Saturn vehicles is turned out at a single plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Major production facilities, including the power train assembly, the body panel operation, the vehicle interior systems and the general assembly, are located here. Building a car like Saturn’s SC2 from start to finish requires lots of lubricants, paints, and other products commonly packaged in recyclable steel paint and aerosol containers. These empty cans are now collected for recycling.

Steel paint and aerosol cans are collected for recycling at Saturn for two reasons: first, recycling is part of the company’s general commitment to protecting the environment. In addition to steel cans, the company recycles steel, aluminum and plastic scrap; white paper; cardboard; polystyrene; shrink wrap; and sand fines.

The second reason the company collects paint and aerosol cans for recycling has to do with what Hildreth describes as “basic economics.” Empty aerosol cans generated at the plant were previously being managed as hazardous waste, while empty paint cans were being disposed of in landfills. Hildreth discovered that it would cost much less for Saturn to recycle these containers than it did to dispose of them.

In early 1993, a system was established to collect empty steel paint and aerosol cans generated from the production areas and divert them to a central processing location. Several 55-gallon drums with attached lids were interspersed throughout the plant. During the course of a normal shift, employees fill the drums with used aerosol cans, which are collected and taken to the plant’s designated processing area. There, the aerosol cans are run through a machine that punctures and drains them while also capturing any vented gases.

“The aerosol can puncturer was an inexpensive piece of equipment, costing us about $500. That’s how much we were previously paying to dispose of a single 55-gallon drum of aerosol cans,” said Hildreth. “Basically, when we recycled the first drum of aerosol cans, we justified the equipment’s expense.”

After processing, the aerosol cans are carted to a 27-yard roll-off for steel and aluminum scrap. When filled, the roll-off is taken to Waste Management’s material recovery facility in Williamson County for baling and shipment to end market. As many as 5,000 empty steel aerosol cans are collected from the plant a year.

Paint cans and five-gallon pails are collected differently. After fully emptying the containers through normal use, employees wipe the insides out with a rag, and the cans are allowed to dry overnight. The next day, the cans are delivered to the plant’s processing area for crushing. The crushed cans are also loaded into the 27-yard roll-off for steel and aluminum scrap.

“Our collecting system didn’t take long to establish. We had it set up and running in a bout a month, and most of that time was spent waiting for the aerosol can processing equipment to arrive,” said Hildreth. “I would strongly recommend that companies dealing with significant quantities of paint and aerosol cans recycle them.”

Thursday, April 28, 1994

From Cast Aways to Cast Iron: U.S. Foundry Recycles Steel Cans

Inside Waste management’s Recycle America facility in Miami, mini-bales of steel cans are hoisted into a roll-off container. Steel cans collected from approximately 110,000 homes in Dade County are being shipped to their end market - not a steel mill but, rather, a nearby foundry.

Iron and steel foundries are relatively new end markets for steel cans. Instead of shaping and forming their products, foundries cast them in a mold as close their final shape as possible. U.S. Foundry, a gray iron foundry in Miami, makes municipal castings. Two years ago, the foundry began using steel cans in their melts. To make a gray iron casting, a wooden replica of the product is packed in special sand. The replica is then carefully removed, leaving behind a mold. Iron or steel scrap is then melted in the foundry furnace and poured into this impression to make the product.

“We began recycling steel cans in 2,000-pound industrial-sized bales, which are normally used in steel mill furnaces,” said Angelo Vega, purchasing agent for U.S. Foundry. “As these bales were too large for our cupola (the furnace), we’d have to break them apart to make them fit. Unfortunately, loose cans completely oxidized when placed into the cupola. We then talked with our processor to make the necessary adjustments, and everything has been great since.”

Waste Management processes the cans into mini-bales, densifying them in a can densifier, which is normally used for aluminum cans. The resulting mini-bales, called biscuits, weigh approximately 30 pounds and fit neatly into the foundry’s cupola.

The foundry now recycles about 10 tons of steel cans a week. Shipped by truck to the foundry, the biscuits are unloaded and kept sheltered. When needed, they are magnetically hoisted onto a scaled conveyor and weighed before being charged into the foundry’s cupola. Two or three biscuits of steel cans are used per charge, the bulk of which is auto shred. Each cupola charge weighs about 2,000 pounds.

“Steel cans are an excellent source of raw material for our foundry. At the same time, we’re pleased that we can help local communities reduce their solid waste streams through recycling,” said Vega. “And if more steel cans happen to become available, we have the capability to recycle even more.”

Monday, February 7, 1994

TAMCO Steel . . . A California Dream: Mini-mill Recycles Used Oil Filers in EAF Steelmaking Process

When you think of California, you may picture the state’s miles of shoreline or imagine catching a wave on a surfboard, but it’s unlikely steel recycling will come to mind. Unless, of course, you happen to work at TAMCO Steel. TAMCO, a mini-mill located in Rancho Cucamonga and the only steel producer in the state, is making waves of its own in the recycling world.

Like all mini-mills, TAMCO uses an electric arc furnace (EAF) to produce its primary steel product, reinforcing bar. An EAF uses virtually 100 percent steel scrap to produce new steel. This scrap is loaded into the furnace and melted at temperatures of approximately 3000 degrees Fahrenheit.

After the scrap is transformed into a molten state, limestone and other alloying elements are added until the steel meets its end product specifications. Through this process of steelmaking, TAMCO assists local communities by recycling a number of post-consumer steel products, from cans to 55-gallon drums. The mill even recycles steel cord from steel belted tires.

“Before I came to TAMCO, I didn’t realize steel was America’s most recycled material,” said Leonard Robinson, environmental/safety manager for TAMCO. “My first impression, and it is a lasting impression, was that the steel industry is a world class recycler. Steel making combines the steel industry, the scrap industry and the environmental industry. It’s a natural partnership.

In April 1991, the mini-mill received permission from the state to begin recycling used oil filters, previously considered hazardous waste because oil may contaminate ground water supplies. Robinson worked with state officials to clarify the laws so that used oil filters are considered steel scrap under specific conditions.

To be considered scrap, the filter must be drained of oil and crushed. Both the recovered oil and the filter must be recycled, and records must be maintained.

The mini-mill receives crushed used oil filters from various oil recyclers. The recyclers collect, drain, crush and deliver the used oil filters to TAMCO, which requires a minimum shipment of 5,000 pounds.

“We have an economic incentive to recycle used oil filters because they are a grade of high quality scrap and they are readily available, “said Robinson. “Steel cans have a similar attraction for us. Competitively priced, they’re a great source of scrap, and the state is also urging us to use more municipal ferrous scrap.”

For the past two and a half years, TAMCO’s efforts have resulted in the recycling of more than 16 million pounds (8000 tons) of crushed used oil filters. Recycling one ton of used oil filters saves 1700 pounds of steel, 31 gallons of used oil, and approximately 10 cubic yards of landfill space.

Wednesday, January 19, 1994

Steel Can End Markets: Steel Mills and Foundries Across America Recycle Steel Cans

The last time steel can end markets were featured in The Recycling Magnet was summer 1990. Much has changed since then: a steadily rising steel can recycling rate, from 17.9 percent in 1989 to 40.9 percent in 1992; an increase in end markets, from 17 then to 74 now; the rising prices for steel scrap; and the acceptance of steel cans as a scrap resource in foundries, a new end market.

For steel cans, and actually for all steel products, end markets are usually as convenient as the nearest steel mill or foundry. Why? Because old steel (otherwise known as steel scrap) is a necessary ingredient in the production of new steel. And because the century-old national network of ferrous scrap dealers and other secondary processors move that scrap from it s generation points to its end markets.

Steel cans fit very neatly within this already-established infrastructure and rove to be an important addition to the overall stream of steel scrap. When talking with representatives from steel mills and foundries, we communicate the three P’s of steel can recycling: (1) the price, which is equal to or better than other scrap grades; (2) the predictability of the chemical properties of the steel can scrap; and (3) the public relations benefits obtained by recycling materials generated in the community, which assists local solid waste management efforts.

Steel cans, as well as old appliances, automobiles and construction materials, are a desired form of steel scrap because steelmaking technologies require more scrap to produce steel and because the same technologies generate less scrap both within the steel mills and within various steel fabrications processes.


Before discussing recycling steel cans, we need to talk about processing them. One of the nice things about steel cans, as we all know, is that processing is easy because of steel’s magnetic qualities. Steel cans collected through residential, commercial or institutional recycling programs are magnetically separated from other materials. Other steel cans are magnetically removed from the solid waste stream at resource recovery facilities. All are processed prior to shipping them to end markets. End market specifications very by end market, but usually require the cans to be baled. Material recovery facilities, scrap processors, or detinning companies process steel cans for end markets.

Detinning companies usually act as high volume processors of steel can scrap by baling or shredding steel cans before shipping them to steel mills. While detinning was at one time a necessary part of the recycling process, this is no longer the case. Some mills, however, do still use detinned cans as part of their scrap mix, so these facilities may also detin post-consumer steel cans. The cans are first shredded, then immersed in detinning solution, where an electrolytic or chemical process removes the tin from the steel. The recovered steel is sold to steel mills for recycling, an the tin is sold to appropriate end markets.

In most of our articles, we mention that steel cans and other types of scrap are shipped to steel mills for recycling. While we rarely explain how these mills recycle steel cans and produce new steel, these processes are actually interrelated and well worth a detailed description.

As it is said of William Shakespeare’s plays, you better appreciate the significance and power of steelmaking by visiting a steel mill rather than reading about it. Chances are that a steel mill in your area offers a tour of its operations. Take advantage of this opportunity. Afterwards, perhaps you’ll agree that steel cans have quite a dramatic ending and new beginning.

The two types of steel mills, the integrated mill and the mini mill, use steel and steel can scrap to produce new steel. Steel mills capable of processing iron ore into steel are called integrated mills. To make steel, integrated mills primarily employ the basic oxygen furnace (BOF), which derives its name from the high sped blast of oxygen used in its steelmaking process.

During the process, high density bales of steel cans and other prepared steel scrap are carefully selected and magnetically hoisted into a scrap charging hopper. After moving to he furnace opening, the charging hopper dumps the steel scrap inside. A ladle of molten pig iron is then moved into place before the furnace opening and pours the molten metal inside. Finally, a lance is lowered through a funnel-shaped opening at the top of the furnace to blow oxygen onto the metal bath. Each “heat” of steel takes approximately 45 minutes to produce. The final product contains approximately 25 percent steel scrap.

The first electric steelmaking furnace was built in the United States in 1906. While the basic oxygen furnace combines raw material and steel scrap to produce new steel, electric arc furnaces are charged with virtually 100 percent steel scrap. Specific grades of steel scrap are selected and charged with small amounts of raw material into the furnace. Charging typically takes place through the furnace roof, which is lifted or swung aside. During the steelmaking process, thee large cylindrical electrodes are lowered through openings in the roof to melt the steel scrap.

Through their operations, integrated steel mills and mini mills together recycled more than one million tons of steel cans in 1992. The BOF produces flat-rolled steel products used to make steel cans, while the EAF produces heavy steel products used in the construction industry.

Iron and Steel Foundries

Iron foundries, which cast iron products such as automotive parts, are the newest steel can end market.

Waupaca Foundry in Waupaca, Wisconsin was the first to test and use steel cans on a regular basis in the production of grey and ductile iron products. We first outlined Waupaca’s efforts in our winter 1990-91 issue.

While foundries use a variety of methods to melt steel scrap, their furnaces tend to be much smaller and less forgiving than a steel mill’s furnace. Therefore, foundries are more particular about the steel scrap they selected for recycling. As a source of steel scrap, steel cans are made from a high grade of steel with predictable chemical characteristics. In addition, steel cans are competitively priced when compared to other forms of low residual steel scrap.

The steel can’s very slight tin content acts as an alloy in the casting process, thereby reducing a foundry’s dependency on other alloying agents. Tin also promotes the end product’s paralytic microstructure while improving its strength and hardness.

Iron foundries, the newest end market for steel cans, could potentially become the most diverse: there are currently more than 1,500 foundries scattered throughout the United States.

Monday, January 3, 1994

South Carolina Dept. of Corrections Recycles Steel Cans in 32 Facilities

The South Carolina Department of Corrections launched a statewide recycling effort that encompasses the state’s 32 correctional institutions and several other agencies.

Begun in September 1993, the program was established in response to the South Carolina Solid Waste Policy and management Act of 1991 that requires a 30 percent reduction in the waste stream and a 25 percent recycling rate by 1997.

One-gallon steel cans make up a significant portion of the recycled items collected from the agency’s 34 dining facilities.

The agency estimates that each year it uses more than 630,000 one-gallon steel cans (240 tons), along with a significant number of smaller steel cans.

“We believe that we can capture for recycling every single steel can that we use. In Corrections, we have positive control over our recyclables. If it enters an institution and we want to recycle it, we can,” said Les Sweigart, director of the support services division, which oversees the solid waste and recycling programs.

Steel cans are rinsed and flattened at the institution and then returned to the processing center on food service, canteen and commissary trucks that would otherwise return empty.

A vacant building has been “recycled” for use as a processing facility. There, inmates bale and prepare the recyclables for market.

“We recycled more than nine tons of steel cans and 15 tons of steel scrap in the first 30 days of operations,” said Carl Spires, the department’s recycling coordinator. “We believe we will recycle about 20 tons of steel cans a month once every institution is fully engaged.”

In addition to steel cans, the institutions collect steel scrap, office paper, computer paper, newsprint and cardboard. Department of Corrections’ officials believe that, through recycling, they can reduce the waste stream by 50 percent and significantly reduce disposal costs.