As Earth Day celebrates its Ruby Anniversary, many companies and industries are reflecting on how far they have come, environmentally speaking, in this 40 year period. This is a lot of reflection, given that The Earth Day Network estimates more than 500 million people and 175 countries will participate in the April 22nd celebration. One of the major ideas Earth Day has brought awareness to is the concept of recycling. Not necessarily a part of the everyday vernacular in 1970, it is now an expectation of consumers that industry looks to recycle materials as much as possible. Of all the industries, paper, plastic, glass, aluminum and steel, which do you think has made the greatest strides when it comes to recycling?
Believe it or not, in North America, the answer is steel. “The North American steel industry commends Earth Day on its 40 years of advancing environmentally friendly behaviors,” Greg Crawford, SRI (Steel Recycling Institute) vice president, said. “During each of the 40 years of Earth Day events, for its part, steel has been recycled at a rate greater than 50 percent. Each year, more steel is recycled than paper, plastic, aluminum and glass combined. This is just one part of the steel industry’s long-standing commitment to sustainability and to global leadership for our sector.”
In fact, in recent years, the overall steel recycling rate has exceeded 80%. This is due in part to the increased participation by consumers via the 8500 curbside recycling programs, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates. Nearly 97 percent of these curbside recycling programs accept steel cans, according to the Steel Recycling Database, which tracks national recycling options. Participation is very high for drop-off programs, too. An increasing number of communities are also accepting empty steel aerosol containers through their recycling program as well.
“The prevalence and widespread recyclability of steel packaging makes it an easy way for consumers to purchase and recycle green packaging,” Crawford said. “Nearly 35 percent of steel cans are still thrown away during the act of cooking, but by being conscious of the benefits of recycling and keeping them separated from trash, consumers can begin making a difference immediately.”
Want to know if you are purchasing something with recycled steel or want to know if a product is recyclable? See if a magnet sticks to it. If the magnet sticks, there is ferrous (steel) content and it is likely recyclable.
So, what is the environmental impact of all this recycling? In addition to conserving the obvious landfill space, the increased consumer participation in recycling has had some notable energy and other sustainable benefits. “In fact, based on 2008 data, the U.S. steel industry has reduced greenhouse gas emissions since 1990 by 33 percent, and has improved its energy efficiency during the same period by 31 percent.” Crawford said.
According to the EPA, recycled iron and steel save the nation 74 percent of the energy that would have been needed to make new steel. That energy would be enough to electrically power about 1/5 of the households in the U.S. (or about 20 million homes) for one year.
So think that just one person can make a difference? Absolutely, each of us recycling at our home, either in our curbside pick-up or going to the community recycling location, it was our participation that helps the Steel industry make such a large impact in helping to protect our environment.