Sustainability

 

Stainless Steel Might Be the Ultimate Green Raw Material

Going green and ensuring the highest sustainability with the world's energy resources is a growing necessity in the current age of business. Environmental awareness continues to be a key consideration for companies and their customers, and there's a growing need to cut on carbon footprint. As such, industries across the globe continue seeking better methods of keeping their products environmentally friendly.

Among the most commonly used green raw material is Stainless Steel. Stainless Steel is a fantastically green material because it is 100 percent recyclable. In fact, more than half of all the Stainless Steel materials that are in use today have been sourced from scrap materials. What's more, its production does not produce toxic run-off. Individuals and business entities can make a huge difference by simply going for Stainless Steel rather than other non-recyclable raw materials.

What is Stainless Steel?

Stainless Steel is an extremely versatile metal that is selected by many manufacturers for its broadly desirable characteristics. Contrary to what most people believe, the term “Stainless Steel” doesn’t refer to one particular alloy. Rather, the general term is used to refer to a variety of iron-based alloys comprised of at least 10.5 percent chromium. To enhance the metals' resistance to corrosion, strength, and other properties additional elements are usually added.

So, what is Stainless Steel? It’s essentially this:

Stainless Steel = Iron + Chromium (> 10.5%) + some other stuff

Elements like molybdenum and nickel are usually included in the alloy to increase its strength, enhance its heat resistance, and improve its manufacturing attributes and formability for deep draw applications. Stainless Steel is a true marvel of technology and has modernized industries like chemical processing, water treatment, transportation, aerospace, and medicine. Its vast benefits make everyday life easier in ways we don’t even think about. The corrosion resistant characteristics of this metal give it its ‘stainless’ moniker and come, in large part, from the chromium content which forms an invisible layer on the alloy surface that protects the metal from corrosion or rusting. This oxide layer is what prevents oxygen from reaching the inner surface.

There are many grades of Stainless Steel, each with its own unique properties that make this family of alloys such a great fit for so many manufacturers.

One of the best characteristics about Stainless Steel is that Stainless Steel is 100% recyclable into the same product, with no reduction in quality.

How Green is Stainless Steel?

There's a wide range of criteria used to ascertain the environmental impact of Stainless Steel. Here are the key categories:

Corporate Environmental Principles

Sandmeyer Steel Company is committed to environmental stewardship and believes that environmental protection is the responsibility of all employees. As such, Sandmeyer Steel Company commits to conduct its operations in compliance with all applicable laws, regulations, and standards concerning environmental protection and, through the establishment of various plans and policies, provide a mechanism for self-monitoring to ensure continual compliance and improvement.

  • Establishment and integration of ecological programs into Company operations and policies.
  • Management of raw materials, co-products, wastes, and byproducts in agreement with the relevant environmental conservation laws.
  • Consideration of the impact on the environment when evaluating new technologies, projects, and manufacturing processes.
  • Promoting pollution prevention, natural resource conservation, and the reasonable reuse and recycling of manufacturing materials.
  • Encouragement of development and research on enhanced environmental and manufacturing technologies and the acquisition and use of recyclable, durable steel products.
  • Fostering staff awareness of their role in ensuring proper environmental management in the Company policies.
  • Issuing the appropriate response to client and community information requests.

Environmental Management Systems

The success of environmental management efforts requires commitment from the top. All staff at Sandmeyer Steel Company are aware of their responsibility to ensure a healthy environment. Furthermore, personnel at every level of the organization are committed to ensuring successful environmental management efforts.

Health Impact of Stainless Steel

A past study by the European Confederation of Iron and Steel industries (EUROFER) dubbed Manufacture, Processing and Use of Stainless Steel: A Review of the Health Effects (1999) led to these eye-opening findings:

  • Stainless Steel alloys have no adverse health effect, hence are not hazardous.
  • There's no evidence to prove that steel manufacture affects staff health.
  • The cutting and grinding of these alloys don't affect workers' health.
  • Welding of these alloys doesn't present a higher risk of lung cancer than any other steel welding form.

Materials, Water Usage, and Energy

Here's the environmental impact of Stainless Steel on raw materials, water, and energy consumption.

  • Raw material – This comprises recycled Stainless Steel and alloy scrap containing the basic Stainless Steel elements. The material is 100 percent recyclable. It also doesn't require surface coatings, which may end up deteriorating and probably pollute the environment.
  • Alloying elements – Stainless Steel comprises nickel and chromium, which are mined and refined under the environmental considerations outlined by the Nickel Development Institute and Chromium Development Association, respectively.
  • Energy – The raw materials for Stainless Steel are usually melted using electric furnaces with advanced computer controls that ensure efficiency in electricity use. Most producers contract with utility companies to level power consumption when there's a high demand or to rely on off-peak power.
  • Slag – This byproduct comes from the melting at the electric furnace. Producers collect it, then reclaim the metals inside it. The aggregate undergoes production for reuse or to be supplied for other uses like roadbed material.
  • Water consumption – During steel manufacturing, water is mainly used for cooling during non-contact cooling processes. Most producers recycle this water up to 100 times before finally discharging it.

Pollution Prevention

After continuous recycling, the plant water first undergoes treatment before being discharged. Different production levels generate wastewater. All these are treated and reused as many times as possible using advanced filtration and clarification equipment.

Minimization of Wastes

Companies in the Stainless Steel industry are keen on keeping wastes as minimal as possible. At Sandmeyer, we collect and segregate any remnant pieces that are usually discarded during manufacturing. All this in-house scrap will be sold to a producing mill or foundry to be melted in the electric furnace. The packaging used mostly comprises steel bands, wrapping paper, or wood cradles. All these can be recycled, hence a significant cut on waste generation.

Recycling

As already mentioned, Stainless Steel is 100% recyclable, and its value still stands even after it has been used as consumer products or capital goods for quite some time. Nearly all products can be fully recycled.

The durability of these products significantly contributes to the minimization of resources. Since there's no product failure or corrosion, there's no need to acquire new replacement resources. Across the globe, metal scrap dealers collect this metal, then send it back for melting to produce more Stainless Steel. The metal’s high scrap value and recyclability ensures that it is diverted from landfills and recaptured for use in new Stainless Steel. The quality of recycled stainless is usually the same as the original, and the value never downgrades, as evident in numerous other recycled materials.

Processes at Sandmeyer Steel Company

Sandmeyer, like almost all companies in the steel industry, always has scrap metal. When a Stainless Steel plate is cut there are usually remaining remnant pieces of Stainless Steel that need to be disposed of. Sandmeyer does not use a scrap yard, but rather sorts our different scrap Stainless Steel and other scrap metal, such as titanium, into the appropriate bins that are picked up by companies that return these remaining solids, turnings, and chips to the producing mills. From here, it is re-used as-is and mixed in with the base metal or virgin metal that has never been used before. The material then goes into the production processes to become Stainless Steel plate again in the future.

Key Takeaway

While it may be hard to conceptualize the idea, Stainless Steel is the ultimate green raw material that can enhance the fight against the climate change juggernaut.

The production process is entirely environmentally friendly, and the final product is durable and corrosion-resistant. This limits the need for manufacturing new material, hence facilitating your company's sustainability goals.