UK ‘Should Recycle More Steel’
The collapse of British Steel has made many people focus on the UK’s steel industry. There’s no denying that the sector is struggling, but the Guardian recently cited a report that suggested the future could be a lot brighter if we focused on recycling steel rather than primary production of the metal.
In the study, authored by Professor Julian Allwood, professor of engineering and the environment at the University of Cambridge, a number of benefits to recycling steel were highlighted.
For a start, the UK could reduce its need for steel from primary production to nearly zero in the next three decades if it recycled the scrap metal on its own shores. This is because we currently produce around ten million tonnes of scrap a year, most of which is exported to be recycled elsewhere.
We also produce around seven million tonnes of steel through primary production, which meets less than half the demand within the country. However, the report argues that if we kept our steel and recycled it ourselves, we could become self-sufficient with the production of the metal.
Recycling steel would also significantly reduce carbon emissions from the sector, because electric arc furnaces are used for repurposing the metal, whereas blast furnaces are needed to produce steel from iron ore. The former are much more energy efficient and produce much lower carbon emissions.
Given that the government is keen to reduce the country’s emissions, it would make sense for it to support moves towards more steel recycling and less primary production.
Professor Allwood commented: “The UK, with its strong climate policy, mature stocks of steel, and great history of innovation in materials science and processing, is perfectly placed to be world-leading with a sustainable steel industry.”
He has made a number of suggestions that could boost the country’s steel recycling rates, such as imposing an export tariff on scrap steel to discourage companies from shipping it overseas. He has also called for greater research into steel recycling and scrap metal to make sure it was turned into high-value components rather than just made into ingots.
This would involve developing new processes to remove the impurities that can be present in recycled steel, Professor Allwood noted, adding that doing so could create a whole new sector within the country’s green economy.
But the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) has recently warned that the issues with British Steel, as well as uncertainty over what will happen to Tata Steel’s European branch, could lead to a contraction in the country’s steel industry.
Materials Recycling World reported on the comments from a BMRA spokesperson, who said that the news about British Steel’s liquidation was concerning “not least because of the impact on recyclers who supply the firm, but also because of the risk to so many jobs up and down the supply chain”.
The news provider noted that efforts have been made in the past to change the focus of the UK’s steel industry to recycling rather than producing new steel, citing the Greensteel initiative.
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