Stainless steels are produced in various grades and support many essential applications in our modern world from transportation, buildings, bridges, water pipes and industrial processes to medical uses, food processing, and preparation.
Stainless steel, being the champion of recycling contributes to sustainability. They are often selected as the sustainable material of choice for a myriad of domestic and industrial applications because of their recyclability, strength, toughness, durability, hygienic properties, and resistance to corrosion, heat, cold and blasts.
The core principle for sustainable resource management is to minimize mining (primary production) and maximize recycling (secondary production). There is an increased interest to quantify the material life cycle of stainless steels and their efficiencies from production, to fabrication, manufacturing, use, recycling and, in some cases, disposal.
2015 Global Production & Apparent Consumption
In 2015, global stainless steel melt shop production was 41.8 million tonnes, with more than half being produced in China (21.6 million tonnes). Use in manufacturing was estimated to be 35 million tonnes, 46% of which was in China.
2015 Stainless Steel End-use
End-use refers to the final products where stainless steel is used. Stainless steels are used by many sectors, in many countries and in a multitude of end-use products, remaining in use for a few years to many decades.
|End Sector||% share||Consumption (Mt/year)|
|Building & Infrastructure||18.40%||5.91|
|Transportation (pass. cars)||12.10%||3.89|
|Household Appliances & Electronics||7.80%||2.52|
Stainless Steel Stocks & Flows
Because of their durability and longevity, stainless steels are typically in use for many years before they become available for recycling. The average lifespan is estimated to be around 20 years, but there are examples of stainless steel in use for a century and beyond. All stainless steels still in use represent a valuable source of potentially recyclable raw material.
- PRODUCTION OF STAINLESS STEEL
- HOT & COLD ROLLING
- MANUFACTURING OF END PRODUCTS
- RECYCLING & WASTE MANAGEMENT
2015 Stainless Steel end-of-life recycling rate
Recycling is highly beneficial, economically and environmentally. The high value of stainless steel scrap makes it worth collecting and sorting and is the reason why it is recycled at such a high rate. Reusing its valuable alloying elements reduces cost, resource depletion, environmental impacts, and energy use. The high end-of-life recycling rate indicates how efficiently stainless steel is recycled from end-of-life products. In principle, and as long as product design and recycling technologies allow, stainless steels can be recycled infinitely. Scrap is a secondary raw material arising from the product manufacturing processes as well as from finished products at the end of their life.
Recycling of Stainless Steel
The production of stainless steel has grown at a rate of about 6% per annum, influenced particularly by the increase in Chinese production in the last 20 years. In 2015, China produced more than half of the world’s stainless steel (53%). Its economy used 39%, up from 10% in 2000. On average, post-consumer material becoming available for recycling now went into use some 20 years ago, demonstrating its long life. The graph shows how the theoretical maximum recycled content is limited by the availability of end-of-life recycled stainless steel which itself depends on past production, growth rates and lifespans of end products.
2015 Recycled content of Stainless Steel
The recycled content of stainless steel is the amount of scrap used in the production of new stainless steel. In many world regions, recycled content in new stainless steels was much higher than the 44% global average scrap ratio suggests. The world average is strongly impacted by the dominance of China’s production with low recycled content (23%). The availability of scrap is so low in China because most stainless steels currently in use were produced after 2005 and have not yet reached their end of life. In-use stainless steels in China will start to become available for reuse in the next five years, representing a large opportunity for recycling. In the absence of sufficient domestic scrap availability they have developed another solution, i.e. NPI as a source of low-cost nickel.