Closing the Loop
The Bureau for International Recycling (BIR), in which Mr. van Kleef is Chairman of its Stainless Steel & Special Alloys Committee, published in its report of May 2020: “For the world as a whole, we calculate that 50.9 million metric tonnes of stainless steel is recycled every year. There is a saving of around 950 million tonnes of CO2 emissions annually – a figure greater than the CO2 emissions of the entire EU transportation sector.” The scale of the stainless steel recycling is huge. As an industry which has always worked for the benefit of the planet, its position in the stainless production cycle is both the beginning and end. Mr. van Kleef is keen to emphasise this: “In Europe, around 90% of stainless steel product comes from recycled material, and every tonne of stainless steel scrap saves 4.5 tonnes of CO2”. According to Mr. van Kleef, the average lifecycle for a stainless product is more or less 15 years, before it is entered back into the process to be reused.
We all want a better world
The recycling process is a big saver; according to EuRIC’s most recent Metal Recycling Factsheet, using recycled steel to make new steel reduces air pollution by 86%, water use by 40%, and water pollution by 76% (EuRIC, 2020). The factsheet goes on to claim that “in 2018, 157 million tonnes of CO2 were saved in the EU by recycling 94 million tonnes of scrap, an equivalent amount to all automobiles circulating in France, Great Britain and Belgium.” From his positions with both Oryx and BIR, Mr. van Kleef stresses the necessity of the steel recycling sector: “I want to underline the importance of recycling. We all want to create a better world and recycling is key to that”.
This is not just scrap
There are of course issues which make the recycling process tough for certain products. Stepping away from stainless for a moment, in the case of electronic products, cheaper alternatives such as glued smartphone screens cause issues for the scrap sorting plants. The parts must be disassembled by hand, making it a more time-costly process, and are often too contaminated by nonrecyclable elements to be recycled.
On the topic of producers’ lack of consideration for recyclability in their products, Mr. van Kleef acknowledges the concern: “Of course, it is an issue because if you can’t recycle you have to fi nd another way to dispose of the product which is not green.” But he is also quietly optimistic.
“Although, I must say, the whole recycling industry is extremely creative and innovative. It always starts with demand, if there is enough demand for innovation then there will be a solution. If you visit yards, you might only notice the huge piles of scrap.
But what you don’t see, is that these are some of the most innovative companies in the world trying to invest and fi nd solutions for disposing of diffi cult gear. At some point, it will be possible to recycle these items in the proper way.”
The stainless steel recycling industry faces many challenges, as freight costs rise, import legislation tightens, and even Brexit poses diffi culties. But the work carried out by companies such as Oryx Stainless BV, as demonstrated by the reports of EuRIC and BIR, prove that the sector is a vital component for a sustainable future.