Steel is the only major material group today that can meet tomorrow’s challenge of a fully circular economy due to its high recyclability, whereby 85-90% of steel products are recovered at their end of life and recycled to produce new steel.

Making one tonne of crude primary steel with the typical blast furnace/basic oxygen method takes 1,400 kg of iron ore, 800 kg of coal, 300 kg of limestone, and 120 kg of recycled steel. At the same time, for every tonne of endlessly recyclable steel that is made at an integrated steelworks, 600kg of valuable by-products are also produced for example, 400kg of blast furnace slag is made, which has many different applications, notably to reduce the carbon footprint of cement manufacture. While the stockpile of recyclable scrap metal continues to grow and will one day meet steel demand, we recognize that we must keep investing in our capacity to capture and bring value to our by-products. 

Our ambition is to eliminate all unnecessary landfilling of residues.

Scrap and recycling

Globally, the current production of steel is three times higher than the supplies of scrap available. Nearly all steel is recycled (87-90%), but even by 2050 scrap supplies will only make up around half of the projected demand for steel. Stakeholders sometimes expect us to reduce our carbon footprint by using more scrap, and yet since virtually all post-consumer scrap available globally is already being recycled, there is no global carbon benefit from encouraging steel producers to use more scrap. Only as more steel products become obsolete can the world produce more recycled steel.

Blast furnace production of steel from primary iron resources will clearly remain vital to support society’s demand for steel – and for the low-carbon transition - for many decades to come. In fact, it is necessary to produce more primary steel today in order to create the future stocks of scrap for a perfectly circular steel industry of the future.

For more on this, please read our Climate Action Report.

Our approach

Recycling is an integral part of our process for developing new products. Whenever our global research and development (R&D) division designs a new product, it ensures that it uses steel in a way that is recyclable and will not have a negative environmental impact. This is especially important for integrated products that contain other materials as well as steel, such as those for the automotive and construction industries.

We also work with customers on recycling to establish the long term environmental benefits of steel as an endlessly recyclable material.  And we work with customers and policymakers to ensure that distortions are not created by simply requiring increased recycled content for steel products, which in practice is more likely to shift the type of steel production than lead to an increase in scrap recycling, due to the constraints on global scrap availability.

We're already one of the biggest recyclers of steel in the world, recycling around 30 million tonnes every year. We do this mainly via the electric arc furnace steelmaking route, but we also use some scrap in the basic oxygen furnace.

Our global R&D division includes a dedicated scrap team with leading-edge knowledge and capabilities in steel recycling that works closely with colleagues from across the business to optimise our approach and improve our knowledge. For example, our R&D centre in Maizières, France, works on processes that will help recover scrap more effectively from mixed waste streams containing steel. Although average recycling rates are very high, it’s vital to identify and tackle the obstacles to recycling industry-wide, and our global R&D team is working on a number of projects to improve recycling with worldsteel.

We have had a packaging recycling research team in Europe since the early 1990s, and we started working with municipalities in France to improve recycling rates for steel packaging long before other materials companies did anything similar. Our work has enabled even the smallest and most isolated areas to have their steel packaging recycled, and it has ensured that steel recycling has contributed to both regional and national economies. We're encouraging governments and regulators to make better provision for recovering scrap.

Lifespan of steel products

Our approach

Our residues and by-products are closely monitored and measured by our onsite by-product team, which explores avenues for reuse and recycling, with the support of global R&D. They report volumes produced and reused to the Group Environment team for oversight and group monitoring.

We are constantly researching new ways to find value from by-products. We aim to use as much as we can in our own processes; and what we can't use, we sell or give to others as a valuable industrial resource. In terms of our solid by-products or residues from steelmaking, under 8% is currently landfilled.

Blast furnace slag and the waste gases from various stages in the steelmaking process already have a wide range of uses. For example, we have a partnership with Ecocem at our Dunkirk and Fos sites in France. Ecocem granulates blast furnace slag to create a partial replacement for Portland cement. This directly avoids CO2 emissions of 766kg per tonne of slag and makes use of the sites’ process waste off-gas instead of natural gas to dry the material, allowing further carbon reductions. In Spain, we are successfully finding markets for slag, enabling us to sell not only what we produce but that stored from previous years. And we are innovating new uses for slag, such as for ballast in offshore wind turbines in place of natural materials, which avoids the ecosystem disruption that can result from extracting these materials from their original habitat.

We are constantly looking for enhanced ways to reuse our waste gases from steelmaking. For example, we have installed top gas recovery turbines at the blast furnace to generate electricity. We are also partnering on a project to convert waste iron and steelmaking gases into bio-ethanol.

There are three main challenges to increasing the recycling rate of our by-products:

Case studies