Due to its strength and durability, structural steel is one of the most important materials used in construction. It is vital in building applications ranging from framing to roofing to support structures and more. Because of its widespread availability and reusability, structural steel will continue to be a key resource in current and future building projects. Without structural steel, many construction projects would not be possible. However, manufacturing new steel can have major environmental effects, as these processes often require a substantial amount of energy.
Recycling structural steel is an effective method for reducing the building industry’s environmental impact. Steel is a highly recyclable material that can be reused without deteriorating quality or durability. Moreover, recycling requires less energy than creating new products, reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
This article will explore structural steel recycling and how this can contribute to a more sustainable future.
How Is Steel Recycled?
As consumers become more aware of the environmental impact of the construction industry, they are looking for more sustainable options for their building projects. Recycling structural steel can be a key component of these practices.
First, scrap yards collect and purchase various types of discarded steel from homeowners, companies, and other metal users. The scrap yard then sorts the steel by type, quality, color, and weight before processing and shredding them into smaller pieces. Rail cars transport the sorted, shredded steel to regional steel mills for recycling.
Structural steel recycling consists of gathering steel scrap from diverse origins and meticulously classifying it according to its type and quality. The sorted scrap is subsequently subjected to melting in furnaces, utilizing either Basic Oxygen Furnace (BOF) or Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) methods. The steel attains the desired composition through refinement, subsequently taking the form of beams, columns, or plates.
In the BOF method, molten iron is combined with scrap steel, and oxygen is blown into the furnace. This results in a chemical reaction that removes impurities and adjusts the carbon content to create high-quality steel. On the other hand, the EAF method uses electricity to generate intense heat, melting scrap steel in an electric arc furnace.
Remarkably, the recycled content of structural steel produced in the United States averages 93%, and steel is 100% recyclable. In contrast, other construction materials like reinforced concrete can only be downcycled. At the end of a building’s lifespan, 98% of all structural steel is recycled into new products—such as new buildings, automobiles, and home appliances—without losing physical properties. This makes structural steel a cradle-to-cradle material that can be recycled repeatedly, contributing to sustainable construction practices and resource conservation.
The Importance of Environmental Product Declarations
Environmental Product Declarations (EPD) are valuable tools in emphasizing the significance of recycling structural steel and meeting the requirements for sustainable, environmentally friendly construction materials. EPDs serve as comprehensive documents that provide transparent and credible information about the environmental impact of products.
Various rating systems exist to assess and certify the environmental performance of construction materials. These systems, such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and other regional rating systems, establish criteria for evaluating the sustainability aspects of building materials. The American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC) actively collaborates with steel mills to develop industry-wide EPDs that comply with these rating systems.
The manufacturing process of structural steel involves certain environmental impacts, which are evaluated and disclosed in EPDs. These impacts include global warming potential, ozone depletion, acidification, eutrophication, and ozone creation. EPDs also provide an overview of the life cycle of structural steel, from raw material extraction to manufacturing and transportation. This allows stakeholders to assess its overall environmental performance.
Benefits of Structural Steel Sustainability
Structural steel sustainability offers numerous benefits for a more environmentally friendly and economically viable construction industry. Being a highly recyclable material, steel is easily recoverable and recyclable at the end of a building’s life cycle. This recycling capability reduces the carbon footprint associated with steel production.
Steel’s strength and durability contribute to the longevity of structures. Steel buildings can have a longer lifespan compared to other construction materials, reducing the need for frequent replacements and renovations. This extended lifespan results in fewer materials consumed over time and lower environmental impacts.
Steel’s durability and low maintenance requirements lead to long-term cost savings for building owners. Furthermore, steel structures’ design flexibility and efficiency can result in reduced construction time and labor costs.
Choose Infra-Metals for Premium Structural Steel Supply and Services
Since 1990, Infra-Metals has been a leader in servicing the structural steel market! Our strategy is to focus on providing quality steel products and precision processing, enabling us to offer an array of services. These include plate burning, drilling, saw cutting, and forming. We also prioritize professional and ethical business practices with our customers, suppliers, and employees.
Greg Borchardt is Vice President of Operations for Infra-Metals / Delta Steel.
Greg, a graduate of Texas A&I University with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and a BBA in Business Management, began his steel career for a steel mill in Houston, Texas in 1989 as a Production Scheduler. In 1993, he took a job with Chaparral Steel in Midlothian Texas and they employed Greg as a distribution manager for the first part of his career. In 1999 Greg moved to Virginia to help build and operate the Virginia Mill. He then transitioned into the production side of the business when he became the General Manager of Steel Production. Fast-forward to 2009 after the historic purchase of the mill by Gerdau North America and 20 years working in steel mills, Greg looked to expand his career into other areas of the steel business.
After a lunch meeting with current leadership at Infra-Metals – Petersburg, Greg was offered a position as project manager in 2009.
“At the time I was in need of job and it was a blessing to have been given the opportunity to work for such a great company. What a great find!”
During this time, all of the Infra-Metals locations were migrating to a centralized software system that could enable greater visibility in product availability and production. Greg requested that he be allowed to train in all areas of the software, kind of a pseudo introduction to the service center business. This approach afforded Greg the education he needed to understand how Infra-Metals operated inter-departmentally.
Greg became the sales manager for Petersburg, VA in 2011. At the time, the group had many product managers and he served as central point of communication for the entire group of sales representatives, both inside and outside. After a short while as sales manager, Greg was promoted to general manager of Petersburg.
Over the years Greg notes “I’ve seen a change in mindset. We’ve graduated from just filling the trucks everyday to a more aligned mentality where employees truly care about each other. It’s a one for all and all for one way of thinking. The level of collaboration and cooperation is night and day from where we began.”
In 2019, Greg became the Vice President of Operations for Infra-Metals and Delta Steel. He is responsible for all of the staffing, safety, capital investments, maintenance, trucks and operations for all of the locations. He has witnessed significant growth over the past 14 years with us and we aren’t stopping. Since Greg began working with us we have added new locations, expanded existing warehouses and not only invested in tech and machinery but also made significant investments in our employees.
“I like seeing progress and having ideas that will make the company better and turning them into reality. Most of the good ideas aren’t mine, but I’m in a position to talk to many different people at many different locations and I like being the voice for the many people and ideas around the company.
“This is the place I retire from. I want the next guy to be really bored because everything is in great shape.”
When Greg isn’t traveling around the country, visiting our facilities, he enjoys golfing with colleagues, friends, and his wife Shelly. He also enjoys spending time with his now grown daughters Macy and Brittany.
“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite time in the future.” – George S. Patten
Congratulations Greg on your journey with Infra-Metals! We’re glad we have you on our team!