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How is steel recycled?

Updated: May 21, 2023

The seven stages of steel recycling are collecting, separating, compacting, shredding, heating, refining, and solidifying. 1. Collecting The first step in the steel-recycling process is the collection of scrap metal. End users such as construction or industrial workers place scrap metal in designated bins ready for pickup by a contracted recycling plant. Sometimes, the metal owner may need to transport the scrap metal to the contractor’s yard in preparation for recycling. 2. Separating The next step involves using specialized magnetic equipment to separate recyclable items from the non-recyclable ones in the incoming scrap stream. Sorting is essentially the quality-control phase in the recycling process. This process is particularly important because the type of metal that is recycled affects the quality of the end product. While steel is wholly recyclable, some steel items might contain non-recyclable content or parts that might lower the quality of the finished product. Sorting allows recyclers to produce high-quality steel that can stand up to the challenges present in industrial settings. 3. Compacting After identifying the recyclable steel items, the recycling process officially begins as specialized machines crash and break the metal. This process minimizes the volume of the batch of scrap metal and makes the recycling process more efficient.


4. Shredding After compacting the metal into manageable batches, the next step is breaking scrap into smaller pieces. Smaller metal pieces not only occupy less space but also require less energy to process, which can minimize carbon dioxide emissions.

5. Heating Heating, or smelting, involves burning the shreds of steel metal over a large fire. For quality control purposes, recycling plants usually place different varieties of steel in separate furnaces. This process converts solid pieces of steel into liquid steel. The amount of heat in each furnace depends on the alloying elements present in the scrap steel. Depending on the intensity of the heat and the amount of metal one is burning, the smelting process can take a few minutes or several hours.

6. Refining Refining eliminates dirt, debris, particles, and other impurities that may be present in the melted steel. Steel recycling plants use various methods to purify smelted steel. Common techniques include electrolysis, distillation, zone refining, and chromatography. Each purification method has its own advantages and disadvantages, and the quality of the end product varies from one refining technique to another.

7. Solidifying In this next step, the pure melted steel is ready for cooling and solidification. Recycling plants use advanced systems to transfer hot molten metal from the heating and purification chambers to the cooling containers. Additional chemical compounds help to stabilize the molten steel and ensure that the final product retains its desired properties, including weight, density, heat conductivity, and corrosion resistance.

Recyclers use specialty containers to shape molten steel into structural steel, which comes in different shapes and sizes for use across multiple industries. Examples of structural steel include bar stock, I-beams, pipes, tees, angled stock, hollow steel sections.


Scrap metal collection Adelaide
Scrap metal collection Adelaide

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