The benefits of stainless steel recycling are clear—it’s good for the environment, and it makes efficient use of raw materials while saving money. It uses less energy than new metal production, and steel can be recycled over and over again. Many companies recycle stainless steel because it’s cheaper than sourcing new steel.
However, stainless steel recycling does have disadvantages. Whether you’re considering the benefits of recycling stainless steel scrap from your production process or you’re looking into sourcing recycled or remnant stainless steel as raw material, this post will help you weigh the pros and cons of stainless steel recycling.
Disadvantages of Stainless Steel Recycling
Some of the downsides of stainless steel recycling include its low value-to-weight ratio and its susceptibility to the effects of heat.
Stainless Steel Recycling Value
Stainless steel is an extremely common material used in countless applications in virtually every industry, so it’s one of the cheaper industrial materials. Combine that with the fact that stainless steel is dense and heavy, and you’ll find that stainless steel scrap has a low value-to-weight ratio. You won’t get as much return from recycling stainless steel as you will from high-ROI metals like copper, brass, or tungsten.
Stainless steel’s low value-to-weight ratio is a downside for manufacturers looking to recycle their scrap steel, but it also means that stainless steel buyers can get great deals on recycled or remnant material. Stainless steel remnants are usable pieces of material left over from manufacturing operations that can be resold and reused by fabricators needing smaller pieces of steel. Stainless steel remnants are readily available from metal recyclers, typically at much lower prices than newly milled steel.
Heat Distortion and Work Hardening
When metals undergo temperature changes, they change both dimensionally and structurally.
The relatively high rate of thermal expansion and low thermal conductivity of stainless steel make it especially susceptible to the effects of heat. Machining and other processes generate heat on the surface of the material, which can lead to problems when reusing stainless steel remnants that have already been worked.
Austenitic stainless steels like 304 and 316 are work hardened by any type of cold working, including forming and machining. 300-series stainless steel remnants may contain internal residual stresses from cold working that can cause dimensional instability problems when welding or machining them. To prevent these problems, the material can be solution annealed to remove residual stresses.
Separating Stainless Steel for Recycling
Stainless steel recycling is a simple process, but since most types of stainless steel look very similar, it can be difficult to separate different grades for recycling. This is important because some stainless steel grades are much more valuable than others. Sorting stainless steel requires technologies such as x-ray fluorescence (XRF) spectrometry. Handheld XRF analyzers can scan a piece of material and determine its composition so the metal can be verified and identified.
Advantages of Stainless Steel Recycling
While there are a few downsides, there are plenty of reasons it’s still viable for manufacturers and metalworkers to recycle stainless steel. Some of the advantages include a highly efficient recycling process and the value provided by stainless steel recycling.
Stainless Steel Is Easy and Efficient to Recycle
Stainless steel is one of the easiest metals to recycle. It is 100% recyclable, so no metal is lost in the recycling process. Furthermore, it can be recycled over and over again without ever losing its properties. This is a huge advantage over other metals that become slightly weaker every time they’re recycled. As long as the material is verified, there’s no need to worry about recycled stainless steel having diminished properties compared to new steel.
Stainless Steel Recycling Provides Value
While it has a low value-to-weight ratio, stainless steel is still worth recycling. Many manufacturers use stainless steel in very large quantities, so they generate enough scrap to provide a considerable return. Plus, it’s used in so many ways that it’s always in demand, so there are always recyclers happy to buy stainless steel scrap.
There are many types of stainless steel, all of which contain chromium and nickel and may also include tungsten, vanadium, titanium, molybdenum, or other valuable elements. Grades containing more of these alloying elements are worth more to recyclers. If you are recycling multiple grades of stainless steel, you can ensure the greatest return by sorting them into their specific grades.
Local Stainless Steel Recycling Services in the Bay Area
Industrial Metal Service has been providing commercial metal recycling services to San Francisco Bay Area manufacturers, fabricators, and machine shops for over two decades. We provide 55-gallon barrels, 4×4 and 4×6 containers, and roll-off services to maximize convenience and easy transportation from your shop warehouse, or yard. We can also customize containers for your specific needs and volumes. We want to make it as easy as possible for you to do business with us.
We also buy usable metal remnants, including stainless steel, aluminum, brass, bronze, copper, titanium, tungsten carbide, and high-temperature alloys, and resell them at significantly discounted prices. We use Thermo-Fisher XRF analyzers to verify our metal remnants so our customers know exactly what grade of material they’re getting.