A sustainable circular economy is one in which society reduces the burden on nature by ensuring resources remain in use for as long as possible. As a permanent material, steel is fundamental to achieving a circular economy. It is easy to reduce the weight of steel products, and steel components can be effectively reused, remanufactured, or recycled.
Whether it is for transport systems, infrastructure, housing, manufacturing, agriculture, or energy, steel is a vital material in our modern world. In applications with a long service life, we will need to wait a hundred years or more to recycle the steel they contain. But every piece of steel can eventually be recycled to meet the growing global need for new steel.
Over the past 50 years, the steel industry has invested in research and technology to create new grades of advanced and ultra-high-strength steels. These grades have reduced the weight of many steel applications by up to 40%. Optimising the weight of products is an integral part of a circular economy.
The industry has also dramatically reduced the use of energy. Producing one tonne of steel today requires just 40% of the energy it did in 1960 3. Over the same period, steel production has increased almost five times.
In a fully circular economy, the reuse of a manufactured product is considered in the earliest design phases of its creation. This allows both small- and large-scale products to be repurposed for another use quickly and efficiently once their initial use is fulfilled.
Today, almost every by-product formed during steelmaking is used in new products. This approach minimises the amount of waste sent to landfill, reduces emissions, and preserves raw materials.
In a truly circular economy, products which stop working are restored to as-new condition in a process known as remanufacturing. Many steel products such as construction and farm machinery, truck and car engines, electrical motors, domestic appliances, and wind turbines are already remanufactured. Remanufacturing takes advantage of the durability of steel components and guarantees that the energy used to create the components is preserved.
Steel has been recycled ever since it was first made. All available steel scrap is recycled, over and over again to create new steel products in a closed material loop. Recycled steel maintains the inherent properties of the original steel.
In the sustainable future, new economic models will maximise the value of raw materials by encouraging practices such as reuse and remanufacturing. The weight of many steel products will be reduced, losses will be minimised, and the already high recycling rate for steel will increase, resulting in more recycled steel to make new steel products.
* per tonne of steel
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