Op-Ed: Scrap Metal Is the Ore of the Future

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The following is an op-ed piece by Anne Staley. It does not necessarily describe the views or opinions of Earth911.

Why is scrap metal so important? Photo: Flickr/cauchisavona
Why is scrap metal so important? Photo: Flickr/cauchisavona

Imagine a few decades from now when we’ve sucked our planet dry of all its natural resources. You don’t think that will happen? Stick around for 30 years or so and we’ll find out, but for now I’m pretty certain that given the rate at which we’re going, we may not even have to wait that long to see that day.

According to a report published on Phys.org, we’ll need the resources of two planets to meet our demands by the early 2030s if we continue to use our natural resources and produce waste at the current rate. The report, by the way, was published in 2009.

A Valuable Industry

We’re left with very few natural resources, and the sooner we reduce our dependence on them, the better. One of the most effective ways of doing this is by recycling scrap metal that is processed into raw material, also called recycled feedstock, which is used the world over for industrial manufacturing.

Let’s break it down into numbers with the help of this ISRI fact sheet. Last year, 135 million metric tons of scrap — metal, paper, plastic, textiles, glass, rubber and electronic waste — were recycled in the United States and sold as valuable feedstock for industrial manufacturing to consumers both within and outside the country.

The value of the scrap metal was a whopping $90 billion and the recycled feedstock it was converted into was sold to more than 160 countries, generating $28 billion in export sales. (Phew, that’s as fine an example as any of letting the numbers do the talking.)

I’m not sure how many of us know that manufacturing products from recycled ore requires significantly less energy compared with using virgin ore. When I say significant, I mean really, really significant.

For example, recycling aluminum saves 92 percent of the energy required to manufacture products from raw material, while the energy savings that result from recycling copper and steel are 90 percent and 56 percent, respectively. That’s the kind of significant I’m talking about.

While a majority of the scrap metal comes from industrial houses, individual homeowners are also known to bring metal scraps for recycling. Recycling companies such as Sims Metal Management, in fact, encourage homeowners to sell their scrap metal for cash at their facility.

Resources Saved

But keep aside the fact that scrap recycling helps our economy by boosting exports. Forget for a moment that it allows us to keep hazardous waste out of landfills. Ignore the truth that it reduces both water and air pollution and provides a cleaner environment.

Just consider the massive amount of natural resources recycling scrap metal helps us save. According to the ISRI fact sheet, recycling 1 ton of aluminum conserves more than 5 metric tons of bauxite ore and 14 megawatt hours of electricity, while recycling the same volume of steel conserves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone.

Now juxtapose this against the Phys.org report about the alarming rate at which we’re depleting our planet of its natural resources and tell me if recycled scrap metal is not the ore of the future.