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The most common type of metal in the municipal waste stream is steel. Steel is also produced and recycled within the automotive, shipping, and construction industries. Distinct from other recyclables, recycled steel must be used to create new steel.

Many household containers consist of or contain steel. Fruit, vegetables, paint, bandages, and shoe polish are just some of the consumer products held within steel containers.

Steel cans contain at least 25 percent recycled steel and are 100 percent recyclable themselves.

Steel’s magnetic quality makes it one of the easiest materials to separate, sort, and recycle.

The average refrigerator contains 75 pounds of steel, and there are thousands of locations across the country where you can recycle similar old appliances.

Steel framing in construction is only generates about 13 gallons of waste – which can then be recycled.

Using recycled steel, as opposed to mining for ore, saves enough energy to power millions of homes for a year.

In recent years, the percent of vehicles available to be recycled was nearly 100 percent.  It only takes 45 seconds to shred a car into steel scrap pieces.

One recycled car saves thousands of pounds of iron ore, thousands of pounds of coal, and over 100 pounds of limestone.  Vehicles and appliances provide a large percentage of the steel scrap needed to produce new products.


1.    Steel containers and other household items are collected or dropped off at a management or recycling facility.

2.    Steel is sent to a processing facility, where it is crushed, baled, and shipped to steel mills.

3.    The steel mills mix these bales with other steel scrap and use a furnace to melt the combined scrap and create new steel.  These furnaces heat steel to thousands of degrees in order to process it.


Steel mills use one of two types of furnace, depending on the final product desired.

Basic Oxygen Furnace – This furnace, which produces flat-rolled types of steel, uses 25 percent steel scrap to create new steel. In one hour, these furnaces produce steel, which would take eight hours to mine and create from virgin ore.

Electronic Arc Furnace – Used for long shaped steel products, this furnace melts nearly 100 percent steel scrap to create new steel.

In addition to the furnace process, steel scrap can also be melted at foundries and made into engine and machinery casts.


Because of the use of lead as a common additive in steel, some concern exists for the amount of lead emission during torch cutting.  In surveys conducted, many steel processors reported not having sufficient monitoring or safety practices in place.  Careful precautions should be taken to avoid exposure to lead and other potentially toxic emissions.

l      Consider replacing torch cutting with shearing, which has a reduced risk of lead exposure.

l      Properly train employees on precautions to take during torch cutting.

l      Provide protection, like facemasks or respirators, for employees who perform torch cutting.

l     Create separate bathrooms, lockers, & break rooms that separate possible contaminated areas from clean ones.

l      Conduct regular cleaning of the exposed work areas to reduce lead dust accumulation.


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