Ferrous metals

Extract BIR Annual Report 2019

Nowadays, a backward look at the old year always seems to be accompanied by a list of what made life ever more difficult for our business community. The world economy and the global markets do not enjoy uncertainty, and neither does the business world; we always seem to be trying to gain traction on shifting sands. Last year was no different.

Besides the standard fare of price turbulence and rising costs, we had to manage the repercussions of trade wars, quotas and tariffs. In addition, Brexit continued to undermine market confidence in 2019.

As I said at our meeting in Budapest last October, quotas and tariffs are perhaps the most potent threat to our scrap industry at the present time. The perils of government intervention rather than free and fair trade were perfectly illustrated at that meeting when guest speaker Viktor Kovshevny of Russian recycling association Ruslom.com explained how delays and indecision over the best way forward on exports had cost the domestic scrap industry hundreds of millions of US dollars.

Rest assured that BIR, the US Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries and other major bodies around the world are working hard to ensure that the interests of the recycling industry are represented where such matters are under discussion.

Global economic turbulence did not prevent 2019 from being yet another record-breaking year for crude steel production with a gain of 3.4% to 1.87 billion tonnes, according to worldsteel. But the same organization’s late-2019 short-range outlook is suggesting that China’s slowing economic momentum will trim its steel demand growth from 7.8% last year to perhaps 1% in 2020. Of course, China’s overall demand performance will be guided to some extent by the progress – or otherwise – of trade negotiations with the USA. At the time of writing, there is more reason to be optimistic that these two major economies will be able to resolve their issues and thereby boost confidence worldwide.

Pulling all of the worldsteel data together, it was projected that global steel demand would grow by 3.9% to 1.775 billion tonnes last year and by a more muted 1.7% to 1.806 billion tonnes in 2020. As worldsteel put it: “Global steel demand remains resilient despite an uncertain global economic environment.”

However, a key takeaway from this outlook is that the improvement in steel demand this year is thought likely to be driven by growth of more than 4% among emerging and developing economies excluding China. Conversely, the envisaged demand increase of just 0.6% for the developed world in 2020 would follow a 0.1% contraction in 2019, largely as a result of weakness in the manufacturing sector.

On the positive side of the equation, there has been no sign of pause in the rising global demand trend for our steel scrap – as underlined by the invaluable figures that continue to be collated by our statistics expert Rolf Willeke. In his update of the 10th edition of “World Steel Recycling in Figures”, he highlighted a year- on-year leap of 20.7% in China’s steel scrap usage for crude steel production in January-June 2019 as a consequence of higher pollutant emission standards set for China’s steel industry, a hike in most of its BOF mills’ scrap inputs and increasing domestic emphasis on electric furnaces.

In Budapest, Becky E. Hites of Steel- Insights LLC forecast that China’s scrap-intensive electric furnace production would soar from less than 80 million tonnes in 2017 to 142.6 million tonnes by 2022. At our earlier meeting in Singapore, growth in China’s usage of steel scrap was hailed as a major market factor by guest speaker Dr. Steven Vercammen of worldwide management consulting firm McKinsey & CompanyThe latter also; reminded us and the rest of the world about why our industry is so vital to the future of our planet. Only a few weeks ago, experts from various leading research organizations insisted that carbon emissions from human activities are the main cause of the worryingly sustained temperature gains seen in recent years. By raising the electric furnace share of world steelmaking to 40%, carbon dioxide emissions would be slashed by 400 million tonnes per annum, declared Mr Vercammen.

In his own words, using more scrap is a “no-brainer”.

“Quotas and tariffs are perhaps the most potent threat to our scrap industry at the present time.”

Gregory Schnitzer

Sims Metal Management Global Trade Corporation (USA)


Ferrous metals are mainly composed of iron and have magnetic properties. Steel, an iron alloy containing carbon, is by far the most recycled material in the world. Total crude steel production in 2018 reached 1.8 billion tonnes, with verified data for 81% of global steelmaking indicating an associated steel scrap use of just under 470 million tonnes. A further 70 million tonnes of scrap is consumed by the world’s iron and steel foundries each year. Global external steel scrap trading - including internal EU-28 trade - amounted to 105.4 million tonnes in 2018 for an increase of 2.6% over 2017, according to BIR statistics.
The most commonly recycled items are scrap from industrial processes, and also end-of-life products such as containers, vehicles, appliances, industrial machinery and construction materials.

Proportion of steel scrap used in domestic steel production (2018):

Republic of Korea

These figures show that, throughout the world, use of scrap metal has become an integral part of the modern steelmaking sector, improving the industry’s economic viability and reducing its environmental impact. Compared to ore extraction, the use of secondary ferrous metals significantly reduces CO2 emissions, energy/water consumption and air pollution. At the same time, the recycling of steel makes more efficient use of the Earth’s natural resources.


World Steel Recycling in Figures 2015-2019

World Steel Recycling in Figures 2015-2019

pdf English 2015-2019

pdf English 2014-2018

pdf English 2013-2017

pdf English 2012-2016

pdf English 2011-2015

pdf English 2010-2014

pdf English 2009-2013

pdf English 2008-2012

pdf English 2007-2011

pdf English 2006-2010

pdf English 2005-2009





In general, metal recycling is a pyramid industry with many small companies at the bottom feeding scrap to large multi-nationals at the top. Steel recycling involves some, or all, of the following steps:

Sorting:  Magnets attract steel and so, through the use of magnetic belts, this metal can be easily separated from other recyclables such as paper in a recycling facility. Different kinds of steel do not need to be separated.

Shredding:  Shredders incorporate rotating magnetic drums to extract iron and steel from the mixture of metals and other materials.

Media separation: Further separation is achieved using electrical currents, high-pressure air flows and liquid flotation systems. 

Shearing: Hydraulic machinery capable of exerting enormous pressure is used to cut thick, heavy steel recovered from, for example, railways and ships. Other cutting techniques, such as the use of gas and plasma arc torches, are sometimes employed.

Baling: Iron and steel products are compacted into large blocks to facilitate handling and transportation.


Steel is ideal for recycling because it does not lose any of its inherent physical properties during the process, which can be repeated ad infinitum. Steel is 100% recyclable and, therefore, recycled steel can be used for the same applications as steel produced from virgin material. Products that are made of recycled steel include:

  • Construction materials for roads, railways, infrastructure & buildings

  • Electrical appliances

  • Cans & containers

  • Automobiles & other vehicles

  • Office supplies

  • Hardware such as bolts, nuts and screws


  • Recycling one tonne of steel saves 1100 kg of iron ore, 630 kg of coal and 55 kg of limestone.
  • Recycling one tonne of steel saves 642 kWh of energy, 1.8 barrels (287 litres) of oil and 2.3 cubic metres of landfill space.
  • Every tonne of steel made from recycled scrap saves enough energy to power four homes for a whole year.
  • Steel recycling uses 74% less energy, 90% less virgin material and 40% less water; it also produces 76% fewer water pollutants, 86% fewer air pollutants and 97% less mining waste.
  • A BIR-commissioned study conducted by Imperial College London has concluded that CO2 emissions are reduced by 58% when using ferrous scrap in steelmaking rather than virgin ore.

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