Sunday, September 1, 1996

The Scoop on Scrap

Think all steel scrap is alike? Think again. The steel industry actually recycles three different types of scrap:

Home Scrap

. . . is scrap left over from steel production at a mill. This includes trimmings and defective steel coils. Today’s efficient steelmaking methods generate only about a quarter of the home scrap they generated just two decades ago.

Home scrap as a percentage of total steel scrap recycled:
1974: 60.5%
1995: 15.5%

Prompt Scrap

. . . is scrap left over from manufacturing processes. When steel lids for glass bottles and jars are made, any excess steel scrap is recycled. About 15 percent of the steel industry’s scrap needs are met by prompt scrap.

Obsolete Scrap

. . . is scrap obtained from post consumer steel products. This includes cans, cars, appliances and construction materials.

Wednesday, July 17, 1996

Reel in Steel: Fishing for Recycled Products

Where would you go if you wanted to buy products made from recycled materials for your home, your business or your community?

Actually, not far. Steel products like lawn mowers, fences, stop signs, refrigerators, tool boxes, swing sets, utensils and even pick-up trucks are all made from recycled steel.

Steel is the supermetal of metals: it is the world’s most useful, least expensive and most recycled metal. And there’s no need to hunt for a special recycling sticker or symbol on steel products - from baby spoons to bridge beams-all steel items contain recycled steel, or what many refer to as recycled content. That’s because millions of tons of steel scrap are recovered from industry and also diverted from the solid waste stream and recycled each year.

A Hearty Appetite

Steel doesn’t experience end market hibernation, when end markets gorge themselves on recyclables for a short time before steeling in for a long period of inactivity. Instead, steel mills are the epitome of solid, stable end markets. The steel industry’s appetite for scrap was particularly healthy in 995, with more than 70 million tons of scrap recycled. All this scrap consumption loosened the industry’s recycling belt a few notches outward to 68.5 percent, its highest rate since the Steel Recycling Institute (SRI) began calculating it in 1988.

The reason steel mills are such stable end markets is that steel simply isn’t made without recycling scrap. Steelmakers learned long ago that remnants of steel could be used as a feedstock for the furnace. Recycling wasn’t motivated by our current environmental concerns but instead by very real economic ones.

Nonetheless, the steel industry’s drive for an efficient, cost-effective method of steelmaking resulted in environmental benefits. Through recycling, the expenses of mining new iron ore, coal and other raw materials, as well as transporting and refining these materials into a usable form, are avoided-and as a result, natural resources are conserved.

Fe + C = ?

On a most basic level, steel is formed when the element iron (symbol Fe) is combined with a small amount of the element carbon (symbol C). The addition of carbon makes the iron stronger and harder.

Today, there are two ways to make steel in the United States, both of which use extensive amounts of steel scrap. One of the two methods is through a basic oxygen furnace (BOF). The other is through the electric arc furnace (EAF).

The Basic Oxygen Furnace

In the United, more steel is produced in the BOF than in the EAF. As much as 300 tons of steel can be produced in a single BOF in as little as 45 minutes.

The BOF recycles approximately 28 percent steel scrap in the production of new steel. This steel scrap includes a variety of post-consumer products, such as steel cans, appliances, automobiles and construction and demolition material.

First, steelmakers select specific types and amounts of steel scrap, like bales of steel cans, and load the scrap into a scrap charging hopper. The charging hopper is then positioned before the BOF opening, and the steel scrap is dumped (or what steelmakers refer to as charged) into the furnace.

After the scrap charging hopper is moved away from the furnace opening, hot molten iron is then poured into the furnace on top of the scrap. Onto this molten metal bath is blown high purity oxygen. Within 45 minutes, the metal bath is transformed into molten steel.

The steel produced in the BOF is typically used to make steel sheet products, such as steel cans, cars and appliances.

The Electric Arc Furnace

The electric arc furnace uses virtually 100 percent steel scrap to produce new steel. During the steelmaking process, the roof of the furnace is swung aside so that the scrap may be charged inside. The roof is then replaced, and carbon electrodes are lowered through openings in the roof. Electric arcs produce enough heat to melt the steel scrap.

Limestone and fluxes are added to remove any impurities in the steel. When the chemical composition of the steel meets specifications, the molten steel is tapped from the furnace. The steel made in the EAF is predominantly made into long shape products, like steel plate, beams and reinforcement

All Steel Contains Recycled Steel

The issue of recycled content is different for steel than it is for products like paper and plastic. For example, steel with virtually 100 percent recycled content is not environmentally superior, so to speak, to steel with 28 percent recycled content. This is not contradictory because they are both complementary parts of the total interlocking infrastructure of steel making, product manufacture, scrap generation and recycling. The recycled content of EAF steel relies on the embodied energy savings of the steel created in the BOF.

There are some basic reasons for this. Consider that steel products are largely durable goods: cars, appliances, bridges and buildings remain in use for many years. All new steel cannot be made with the EAF because the supply of available quality steel scrap for recycling would be insufficient to meet the demand for new steel. The BOF has a complementary relationship with the EAF because it introduces new levels of steel into the total system.

Second, the steel industry has never needed “recycled content” purchasing to drive scrap use. As a technological function of the steelmaking process itself, all steel contains recycled steel, creating an economic demand for scrap. And an extensive infrastructure has existed for decades to return all types of pre and post-consumer steel scrap to steel mills. After its useful product life, steel scrap is recycled back into another steel product regardless of the process from which it originated or is destined toward.

Thursday, May 2, 1996

Fridge Today, Car Tomorrow: Appliance Recycling Efforts Supplying Steel for Future Products

Appliances are convenient time and labor saving devices that American society has come to depend on. Just as appliances are made from steel, they reduce our worries about disposing of them after they no longer work.

Steel is North America’s #1 recycled material. More than 66.8 million tons of steel scrap were recycled from steel products, such as appliances.

In only five years, the national recycling rate for hoe appliances has risen from 32 percent to 74.8 percent in 1995, with more than 41 million appliances recycled in 1995.

Steel scrap has become the steel industry’s single largest source of raw material because it is economically advantageous to recycle old steel into new steel. Today, the steel industry’s scrap-hungry furnaces recycle 68 percent of the steel produced each year. Increases in technology continue to push the steel industry’s capacity
to recycle steel to even greater levels.

This remarkable recycling achievement is by no means limited to the last few years. With the exception of the very earliest methods of steelmaking, steel scrap has always played an important role in the steelmaking process. In fact, for the past 50 years, more than 50 percent of the steel produced in the United States has been

The steel industry’s steady, increasing demand for steel scrap has notable consequences. First, the United States has developed the most efficient steel recycling infrastructure in the world. More than 1,600 ferrous scrap processors prepare steel scrap for recycling by the steel industry.

Like any other raw material, steel scrap has true economic value. As a result, steel scrap is collected and prepared for recycling from a variety of sources for its market value as well as for the energy savings and natural resource conservation it provides to the steel industry.

Appliance Recycling

Appliances are easy to recycle because they contain large amounts of steel. By weight, the typical appliance contains about 75 percent steel. And according to the Appliance Recycling Information Center, Washington D.C., the average steel content in refrigerators, clothes dryers and ranges all exceed 100 lbs.

Many communities have established temporary or permanent collection programs to ensure that appliances are recycled. These appliances are accepted by ferrous scrap processors who prepare them for recycling by the steel industry.

Processing Appliances

Processors typically remove components, such as electric motors, capacitors, switches and other mechanical parts, from the appliances before recycling. If the appliances contains refrigeration or cooling equipment, refrigerant gases must be captured and recycled.

Refrigerant Gases

CFCs and hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), both considered ozone-depleting coolants, are only found in appliances that 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 to easily accomplish these procedures. In other areas, specialty recycling companies provide this service, either independently or in association with appliance dealers or the local government.

In either case, processors involved in recycling appliances are responsible for ensuring that the refrigerants have been reclaimed.

Ferrous Scrap Processors

Ferrous scrap processors accept all types of steel scrap, including appliances, for recycling. At the scrap yard, the automobile shredder is the primary equipment for preparing appliances for recycling. Shredding an appliance breaks it down into small chunks of steel, which are melted more efficiently for recycling in a steel mill’s furnace. It also facilitates removal of nonferrous metallic and nonmetallic fluff.

Appliances are fed to the shredder by crane, which loads the appliance onto a steel conveyor belt. What looks like a spiked, over-sized dough-roller crushes the appliance down and rips the shell apart as it enters. Inside, free-swinging hammers shred the shell into fist-sized chunks. The material then exits the shredding unit and continues down a conveyor belt for mechanical sorting. The steel components are first magnetically separated and eventually discharged from the conveyor to form large piles of shredded steel, plus a smaller component of nonferrous metal, and a pile of fluff which is ultimately discarded.

End Markets

The two types of steelmaking furnaces, the basic oxygen furnace and the electric arc furnace, use steel scrap to make new steel. Integrated steel mills use the blast furnace to process iron ore into molten iron. Then the basic oxygen furnace uses scrap steel and oxygen together with molten iron to make new steel.

The final product from the basic oxygen furnace contains approximately 28 percent steel scrap, or in today’s environmental terminology, recycled content. Another steelmaking process which uses steel scrap from appliances and other steel products is the electric arc furnace, which uses virtually 100 percent steel scrap.

Appliance Recycling Future

The 1995 appliance recycling rate is 74.8 percent, up from an estimated 20 percent in 1988. This recycling rate should continue to expand, as 18 states have passed legislation banning appliances from landfills to extend the life of their landfills and to encourage the development of new recycling programs.

Saturday, April 13, 1996

Entering the Mainstream: Empty Steel Aerosol Cans, A Part of Many Programs’ Recycling Efforts

The aerosol can is a sealed, airtight container with a unique self-contained delivery system that overcomes atmospheric pressure to dispense its product in a controlled direction and amount. Sounds a bit complex, so it must be difficult to recycle, right?

Wrong. More than 90 percent of aerosol cans are made from steel, North America’s most recycled material. Steel’s recyclability positions the aerosol container for today’s recycling demands.

An entire industry of ferrous scrap processors has been formed around the preparation of steel scrap for steel mills. In 1995, more than 70 million tons of steelmaking, fabrication and post-consumer steel scrap were recycled into new steel products. It is through this very same well-established recycling infrastructure that steel aerosol cans are recycled as a steel scrap.

Steel Can Recycling

Steel food and beverage cans are commonly included in nearly every community’s recycling program: in all, there are more than 14,500 steel can recycling programs.

Empty steel aerosol cans should be a part of each of these programs. But misinformation or misunderstanding initially prevented the immediate inclusion of aerosol cans when many curbside and drop-off municipal recycling programs began collecting steel cans. For example, a large majority of the public wrongly believed or assumed that aerosol cans still contained chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which were banned in 1978. Public education and industry outreach have finally begun to turn the tide. Most recently, it appears that one of the major hurdles, regarding the issue of emptiness, has been overcome.

When is an Aerosol Can Empty?

When it comes to recycling, all types of packaging have on ordinary factor in common: the container must be empty before it may be recycled. For aerosol cans, this seems to pose a special challenge. Invariably the question arises, at what point is an aerosol can empty?

There are several ways this can be answered. For those with an exhaustive desire for precision, the federal government has defined exactly when a container, including an aerosol can, is considered empty. The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations 40 CFR, section 261.7 states that emptiness occurs when “No more than 3 percent by weight of the total capacity of the container remains in the container or inner liner . . . “or “when the pressure in the container approaches atmospheric” pressure.

But before gauging how much product is left in the can, you should know that an aerosol can is designed to fully and efficiently dispense virtually all of its contents. The long, thin dip tube that carries the product out of the can reaches into the edge of the can’s domed base to capture the product. In addition, both the aerosol can’s product and propellant are carefully measured to exhaust at virtually the same time.

Finally, common sense says that when an aerosol can’s working nozzle is activated yet does not release any product, the container is empty.

Municipal Recycling Programs

So how much preparation do aerosol cans require for recycling through municipal recycling programs? The answer is simple: none. Before recycling aerosol cans through municipal collection programs, household residents are instructed to simply use up the contents of the containers normally. A 1992 study conducted by the Steel Recycling Institute under the purview of the Texas Water Commission demonstrated that consumers sufficiently empty their aerosol cans before recycling them. The “Houston Aerosol Can Recycling Evaluation” physically evaluated a sample of more than 1,700 consumer-emptied aerosol cans collected through the Houston, Texas curbside program over a six-week period. The results of the study indicated that the mean combined residual product remaining in the cans was 2.69 percent, well
within the three percent “emptiness” criterion established by the U.S. Code of Federal Regulation.

Another study was just recently completed by the Factory Mutual Research Corporation. This study demonstrated that material recovery facilities may safely process aerosol cans collected along with other steel containers and recyclables.
An earlier study on the flammability of aerosols had been conducted by S.C. Johnson Wax at two processing facilities with six different types of equipment. It was determined that the lower flammability limit was never reached with ordinary processing, so concerns about plant safety were answered.

Factories, Plants and Shops

Multiple users, quality of product with intermittent applications and other factors all tend to reduce the chance that an aerosol can’s product will be thoroughly and completely used up at factories, plants and shops. In these cases, special equipment may b employed when required to ensure that the cans are completely emptied for recycling.

To ensure that all steel aerosol cans in the factory, plant or shop are empty before being recycled, preparation may be appropriate. They are collected at one or more preparation sites in the facility, where they are punctured and drained of any remaining product and propellant using appropriate equipment designed for this purpose. Once the cans are emptied and then flattened, they can be picked up by a scrap dealer or waste hauler to be baled along with other steel cans collected in residential programs and shipped to end markets for recycling. Puncturing, draining and flattening provides visual assurance that all of the cans have in fact been properly prepared.

Aerosol Can Fillers and Household Hazardous Waste Processors

Aerosol can fillers and household hazardous waste processors have something in common: aggregate quantities of full or partially full steel aerosol cans. Over time, aerosol can fillers generate filling line rejects, malfunctioning cans and damaged cans. Aerosol cans collected through household hazardous waste collection programs have full or partially full containers that are old or defective or that residents no longer wait.

Aerosol can fillers segregate the reject or otherwise unsalable containers. They also may receive consolidated customer returns from the retail network. The collected cans are taken to the factory’s preparation center, where special equipment is used to decant, degas and flatten them automatically. The steel aerosol cans are then shipped to a secondary processor for baling and shipment to end markets. The contents of the rejected cans are recovered for reuse or prepared for proper disposal.

Household hazardous waste vendors are encouraged to operate in a similar manner. During community household hazardous waste collections, which typically occur once or twice a year, partially full or full aerosol cans (along with many other containers) are taken to a designated collection site by residents. These programs also collect significant quantities of empty aerosol cans which residents should have actually been able to recycle along with other steel cans through their ordinary curbside and drop-off programs. After the aerosol cans are assembled, hazardous waste vendors may use similar specialty equipment to decant, degas, and flatten them. Some operators without appropriate equipment may need to ship the cans to a larger operator in the area. The emptied, flattened aerosol containers are then sent to a secondary processor, such as a ferrous scrap yard, for baling and shipment to end market. They are typically mixed with other empty steel cans, such as paint cans. In some cases, the prepared containers may go to a material recovery facility where they are mixed in with residential cans. By recycling these cans, household hazardous waste management and landfill costs are reduced, in turn reducing the overall cost of the household hazardous waste collection program.

Steel Mills Recycle Aerosols

Less than 15 percent of steel cans were being recycled in 1988, about the time when many municipal recycling programs began to emerge. As steel cans are commonly used to package food, beverages, paint and aerosol products, recycling coordinators were able to divert steel cans from the solid waste stream to secondary processors, including ferrous scrap dealers, for steel mill consumption. The supply of steel cans for recycling began to increase yearly, along with renewed interest by steel melters.

Steel mills purchased increasing amounts of steel can scrap for several reasons. In a steelmaking furnace, molten iron, scrap and varying levels of fluxing agents and other alloying elements are mixed together to create a “heat” of steel with
a specific chemical composition of the scrap being added to the furnace so that the resulting heat meets a desired chemical profile. As a source of steel scrap, steel cans have a highly predictable chemical composition. In addition, they have virtually no contaminants to the steelmaking process, as paper labels or plastic components are vaporized in the face of volcanic temperatures. And, when coupled with the fact that steel cans have been lower in price than other comparable grades of scrap and that appealing public relations is created by helping to reduce the size of a community’s municipal solid waste stream, steel cans are a desirable form of scrap.

Many steelmakers have altered their scrap purchases proving that steel cans are becoming a known and desired commodity. In 1995, more than 80 end markets across the country helped recycle 55.9 percent of the 32 billion steel cans produced in the United States.

Benefits of Empty Steel Aerosol Can Recycling

Municipal solid waste managers and recycling coordinators are adding empty steel aerosol cans to their collection programs, especially at this time when many recycling programs are moving to expand their collection bases in an effort to meet state recycling mandates. Collecting empty steel aerosol cans for recycling requires no further collection or processing equipment, and can add as much as three to five percent to a recycling program’s total steel can diversion rate.

The SRI has a variety of brochures and other information about steel can recycling. For copies of these brochures, please call the SRI at 800-876-7274.

Sunday, January 14, 1996

Scientific Recycling Inc. - Putting Steel Back to Work

Appliances designed to keep things cool, such as refrigerators, pose a special challenge for appliance recyclers: their refrigerants contain CFCs. These refrigerants are considered an ozone depleting gas, and the amendments to the Clean Air Act of 1990 prohibit the open-air venting of these gases. Special equipment must
be used to capture CFCs for recycling. Not all scrap processing yards have this equipment; instead they rely on companies like Scientific Recycling.

Refrigerants, however, are not the only recyclable collected from these appliances. The force behind the recyclability of appliances is the steel used in their bodies.

“Steel from appliances is my bottom line,” said Mike Niles, president, Scientific Recycling Inc. “When most people have no further use for an old appliance, that’s when it is most useful to me. I put a good portion of those old appliances right back to work as new steel products.”

Niles’ recycling company, which is one of the five oldest in the nation, has been processing out-of-service has been recycling appliances from Iowa and Nebraska.

The collected appliances are stored in a semi-trailer left at the drop-off sites. Once the trailer is full, the appliances are transported to the Scientific Recycling processing facility in Holman, WI. The appliances are cataloged, thereby assuring that when the appliance is recycled, the scrap processing yard can be sure it is dealing with a CFC-free appliance.

The prepared appliances are then hauled to Alter Scrap Processing, Lacrosse, WI, where they are shredded and mixed with other steel including cans, cars and construction materials. This steel is then shipped to end markets throughout the midwest.