You are on page 1of 17


The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

Recycling and reuse

Scarcity of resources and the need to reduce the environmental impacts of winning and processing construction
materials and products is placing a greater emphasis on resource efficiency within the construction industry. It is
estimated that the UK construction industry consumes some 420Mt of materials annually and generates some 90Mt of
(construction, demolition and excavation) waste, of which 25Mt ends up in landfill. Therefore there is significant scope
for improving resource efficiency within the industry.

The developing Circular economy agenda, particularly the Action plan recently launched by the EU, is also focussing
greater attention on waste, resource efficiency and recycling and reuse in construction.

Over 500 million tonnes of steel are recovered and recycled annually worldwide

Major improvements in materials resource efficiency are possible without increasing cost by:

Reducing the quantity of materials being sent to landfill during the construction process by designing out
waste and effective site waste management
Reusing, recycling and recovering waste material as appropriate
Utilising materials and products with a high recycling and reuse potential.

These are also fundamental to achieving the coal of the circular economy.

The focus of this article is the second and third of these; reuse and recycling.

What is recycling and reuse?

1 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

Reuse and recycling are key stages of the UK Waste Hierarchy and are the preferred options after all has been done
to prevent waste in the first place.

UK waste hierarchy

Reusing and recycling construction products avoids or reduces waste and saves primary resources. By using
materials that have a greater potential for reuse and recycling, it is more likely that the value of these products at their
end-of-life will be realised in future applications.

Some materials are more recyclable than others, for example the process of recycling may be easier or the recyclate
may have a higher economic value. It is therefore more likely that such products will be efficiently recycled in the future
and designers should be encouraged to use such products.


By recycling, we contribute to more sustainable development by eliminating or reducing waste and by saving primary
resources. Also, recycling some materials, like metals, saves energy (and reduces carbon emissions) since it requires
less energy to re-melt scrap than it does to produce new metal from primary resources.

The benefits of recycling are well understood and include:

Reducing waste, i.e. diverting waste from landfill

Saving primary resources, i.e. substituting primary production
Saving energy and associated greenhouse gas emissions through less energy intensive reprocessing.

Although these benefits apply to many commonly recycled materials, there are some important differences in the
properties of materials that influence the environmental benefit of recycling and particularly how these benefits are

2 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

Metals, for example, are infinitely recyclable, i.e. they can be recycled again and again into functionally equivalent
products - this is the most environmentally beneficial form of recycling.

Other products are down-cycled into new products that are only suitable for lower grade applications because the
recycled product has different, usually lower, material properties. Although waste is diverted from landfill by down-
cycling, only lower grade primary resources are saved. For example crushing bricks and concrete for hardcore or sub-
base saves aggregates but doesnt save the resources required to make new bricks or new concrete.

For recycling to be sustainable in the long term, it is important that the recycling process is financially viable. This is
frequently the biggest hurdle to recycling, particularly for products and materials that are down-cycled into lower
grade, low value applications.

Current end-of-life scenarios for three of the most common construction materials; concrete, timber and steel are
shown. The table describes the end-of-life outcomes of these materials against the established UK Waste Hierarchy.

End-of-life scenarios for concrete, timber and steel from buildings

Current end-of-life outcomes for concrete, timber and steel

3 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

The challenge in assessing the embodied environmental impacts of products therefore is how the benefits of highly
recyclable materials should be quantified and assessed relative to products that are downcycled or landfilled. This is a
new discipline for designers who are used to thinking about how buildings are constructed, i.e. put together, but have
generally not been concerned about how they are deconstructed so that their constituent parts can either be easily
recovered for reuse or recycling.

A case study on recycling of steel at the Teesside Meltshop at Lackenby can be accessed by clicking here.

How to account for the benefits of recycling?

Life cycle assessment (LCA) is widely recognised as the best and most rigorous tool for assessing the environmental
impacts of products and services.

In LCA the benefit of recycling may be considered as an environmental credit or benefit. Recycling avoids the higher
burdens of primary material production but this environmental saving lies in between two adjoining product systems,
i.e. the upstream system which produced the scrap materials, e.g. demolition of a building; and the downstream
system which will consume the recycled material, e.g. steel production. How this benefit is shared (or allocated)
between the two adjoining systems is an important and controversial issue in LCA and, to a large extent, depends on
the goal and scope of the study.

Steel and recycling

Steel is 100% recyclable and is highly recycled. In the UK, the overall average end-of-life recovery rate for steel from
buildings has been estimated from surveys to be 96% It is important to remember that this is true recycling; every
tonne of scrap recovered substitutes one tonne of primary steelmaking and this can happen again and again, with
existing technology and without any degradation in terms of properties or performance.

Steel production

Steel is produced by one of two production routes:

The primary or basic oxygen steelmaking (BOS) route; based primarily on the reduction of iron ore and
incorporating typically 10% to 15% of scrap steel
The secondary or electric arc furnace (EAF) route; 100% scrap based production.

In 2011, global production of crude steel was 1.5 billion tonnes and the production split between the two routes was
approximately 70:30 (BOS:EAF). Over 500 million tonnes of this total is estimated to have come from scrap. Although
the amount of scrap recycled is generally increasing, scrap supply is constrained by availability and as shown, supply
cannot meet the global demand for new steel and therefore primary steelmaking from iron ore is still required. It is
noted that the greatest demand is in the developing economies where steel is being used to develop infrastructures
and buildings. In many developed economies, there is a much closer match between steel demand and scrap supply.

4 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

Global steel demand vs Global scrap supply

As shown in the figure below, steel scrap from both (primary and secondary) production routes is recycled back into
either route. Therefore although there are two separate manufacturing routes, they are linked by the flow of steel scrap
and therefore can be considered as a single system.

A coupled system comprising primary (BOF) and secondary (EAF) steelmaking

5 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

Steel recycling

Since steel was first mass produced in the 1880s it has always been highly recycled. Principally because:

Steel has a relatively high economic value - the price paid for UK scrap structural steel in 2016 was around
90 per tonne
The versatility of steel means that it can be easily recycled or remanufactured into new applications as demand
Steels magnetic properties mean that it can be efficiently segregated from mixed waste streams.

Steel is available in thousands of different compositions (grades), each tailored to specific applications in sectors as
diverse as packaging, engineering, white goods, vehicles and construction. Construction is the largest market sector
for steel in the UK accounting for around one third of consumption. This versatility promotes recycling since steel scrap
can be blended, through the recycling process, to produce different types of steel (different grades and products) as
demand dictates. For example, steel from redundant industrial machinery can be recycled into more contemporary
products such as cars or white goods which, in turn, can be recycled into new, maybe as yet undiscovered,
applications in the future. A case study on this involving the Teesside Meltshop at Lackenby can be accessed here.

Steel products in-use today all contain a proportion of recycled steel from previous incarnations. This can be one or
many previous uses. Originally this recycled steel was produced from iron ore and therefore how the initial impacts of
primary production, are shared over subsequent uses of the same material is an important question in quantifying its
whole life environmental impacts.

As long as recycling continues therefore, the life of a steel product is, in effect, infinite and individual incarnations or
uses of a steel product, are merely parts of the larger life cycle of the material. By considering the environmental
impact of these intermediate lifecycle stages in isolation, an incomplete, snap-shot of the overall impact is obtained.
For example, by only considering the recycling step but excluding the initial, generally larger, impact from the initial
primary production.

This is illustrated in the figure below which shows the environmental impact of a hypothetical metal product over five
life cycles or recycling steps. The environmental impact of the first or primary production process is 10 units and the
impact of the secondary or subsequent process, i.e. the recycling process, is 3 units. A 100% recycling rate is
assumed for simplicity. Note that for structural steel this is a realistic assumption see results from a recent survey.

If we take a snap-shot of say the third life cycle, the environmental impact is 3 units. But this ignores the initial impact
of the primary production step (Cycle 1). Similarly, if we only consider the first life cycle but ignore all subsequent
cycles, the impact is 10 units. In reality, as shown, the average impact of the product is somewhere between the two;
in this case, 4.4 units (10 + 4 x 3 = 22 divided by 5). This average value in practice will depend on the number of
cycles and the recycling rate achieved for a particular product.

6 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

Averaging impacts over multiple recycling steps

Steel construction and recycling

Establishing accurate reuse and recycling rates for construction materials is difficult. (Recycling or reuse rate is
defined as the proportion of material arising, from demolition, refurbishment, etc, that is recycled or reused).

Waste occurs during the construction and refurbishment of buildings and when they are ultimately demolished and
therefore material becomes available for recycling at each of these stages. As prefabricated products and systems,
waste from the manufacture of steel construction products is easily collected and segregated for recycling and, on the
construction site, steel products generate very low or zero waste.

Manufacture and construction wastage rates for steel construction products

Generic product Wastage rates (%)

Manufacture1 Construction2

Sections 4.1 0

Profiled cladding and decking 2.3 5

Sandwich panels (steel only) 3.9 5

Composite floor decking 1.4 N/A

Light gauge steel 3 2.5

7 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

Life cycle assessment (LCA) for steel construction, European Commission, EUR 20570 EN
Site wastage rates used for the Green Guide to Specification, BRE

While the amount of scrap steel that is collected for recycling is known, it is much more difficult to establish the amount
of scrap steel arising from the construction and demolition of buildings. In the UK in 2015, 9.0mt of scrap steel were
recovered (from all market sectors) for recycling. It is estimated that construction steel accounts for just 8% of this
total. This proportion is much lower than 29% (which is the proportion of UK steel consumption used for construction)
and reflects the longevity of steel construction products and implies that the stock of steel in UK buildings and
infrastructure is increasing.

Estimate of the breakdown of steel scrap arisings in the UK[1]

To establish recycling and reuse rates for steel construction products, a survey was carried out with demolition
contractors in 2000. This survey was repeated in 2012[2]. The table gives the estimates for UK steel construction
products resulting from the second of these surveys[2].

8 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

Product % Reused % Recycled % Lost

Heavy structural 7 93 0

Rebar (in concrete 0 98 2


Rebar (in concrete sub- 2 95 2

structure or foundations)

Steel piles (sheet and 15 71 14


Light structural steel 5 93 2

Profile steel cladding 10 89 1


Internal light steel (e.g. 0 94 6

plaster profiles, door

Other (e.g. stainless 4 95 1


Average (across all 5 91 4


Summary of reuse and recycling rates from the 2012 Eurofer survey (with additional responses)[2].
For practical purposes a 99% recycling/reuse rate is generally assumed to account for small losses of material during
the lifecycle of the product.

As distinct from recycling, reuse of construction products involves their reuse with little or no reprocessing. Reuse
offers even greater environmental advantage than recycling since there is no (or few) environmental impacts
associated reprocessing. For example, reusing a steel beam in its existing form is better than remelting it and rolling a
new steel beam, i.e. the energy used to remelt the beam is saved.

As with recycling, some construction products and systems are more amenable to reuse than others and therefore
designers should be encouraged to think about not only how their buildings can be easily and effectively constructed
but also how they can be efficiently deconstructed. This is a new discipline for most designers.

Although complete buildings and different elements of steel buildings can be reused, here we focus on structural
building elements.

Already some industries such as the agricultural sector (where aesthetics are generally of less concern than other
sectors) commonly reuse steel structures and cladding components. In addition, salvage of construction materials has
been undertaken for many years albeit it a relatively small and specialist scale. Common categories of salvaged
construction products include:
9 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

Architectural salvage
Cobbles, slates, flagstones
Reclaimed timber
Reclaimed flooring
Structural steel
Steel portal frames
Railway sleepers.

Sourcing reclaimed construction products has been enhanced via the use of the internet and the ability to easily
search for specific products.

A case study showcasing the reuse of steel at the Honda central receiving building can be accessed here.

Barriers to reuse

There are many barriers to the more widespread reuse of construction components. These include:

Technical barriers:

Lack of standardization of components

Ensuring and warranting the performance of reused components
Lack of detailed knowledge of the products properties and in-use history (this may be inmportant, for example,
if the component has been subject to fatigue loading)
Quality assurance of reused products
Robustness of products in the deconstruction process, i.e. many lighter products do not survive the
deconstruction process intact
Practicalities of economic deconstruction including deconstructing composite components

Logistical barriers:

Assured availability of supply

Demolition programmes are too short to enable contractors to deconstruct buildings
Sufficient storage space for recovered products
Deconstruction as opposed to demolition has significant impacts on the health and safety precautions required


Lack of commercial drivers for reuse

Cost of storage, cataloguing, refurbished products, etc.
Cost of testing to verify and guarantee properties
Client expectation that second-hand products should be cheaper than new ones
Additional cost of deconstruction over (faster) demolition (as opposed to demolition which is generally
undertaken using remote machinery)

10 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

How to manage and apportion risk and liability associated with deconstruction and reuse.

Reusing structural steel

Steel buildings and steel construction products are highly and intrinsically demountable. This potential is illustrated by
the large number of temporary works systems that use steel components, e.g. scaffolding, formwork, sheet piles, etc.
Provided that attention is paid to eventual deconstruction at the design stage, there is no technical reason why nearly
all of the steel building stock should not be regarded as a vast warehouse of parts for future use in new applications.

Steel can be reused at both the product and the building level. Already some industries, such as the agricultural
sector, commonly reuse steel structures and cladding components.

British Pavilion, Seville Expo 93

Many steel construction products and components are highly re-usable including:

Piles (sheet and bearing piles)

Structural members including hollow sections
Light gauge product such as purlins and rails.

The process is straightforward; for example, deconstructed sections are inspected to verify their dimensional
properties; tested to confirm their strength properties and the section is then shot or sand blasted to remove any
coatings and refabricated and primed to the requirements of the new project. This will usually involve cutting the ends
of the beams and columns to the required length.

11 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

There is, however, significant scope for increasing reuse of steel construction products and work is underway within
the sector to promote and facilitate this. The proportion of recovered products that are reused will increase as design
for deconstruction is better understood and a stronger market for reusable steel construction products is stimulated.
The ability of the steel construction sector to facilitate these advantageous processes has been enhanced by the
standardisation of components and connections.

At the building systems level, modular construction offer the greatest opportunities for reuse. Modules or pods can be
deconstructed from the building and refurbished and reused on the same or an alternative building.

At a much larger scale, complete steel buildings can be reused. An early example is the British Pavilion at the Seville
Expo in 1993 (see right). This innovative, energy efficient steel building was designed to be reused after the Expo.

Research carried out by the Steel Construction Institute[3] has estimated that there is around 100 million tonnes of steel
in buildings and infrastructure in the UK. This stock of steel is an important and valuable material reuse that will be
reclaimed and either reused or recycled in the future.

Design for reuse

To facilitate greater reuse it is important that designers not only use steel but also do what they can to optimise future
reuse. Steps that the designer can take to maximise the opportunity for reusing structural steel include:

End plate beam to column and beam to beam connections

Use bolted connections in preference to welded joints to allow the structure to be dismantled during
Use standard connection details including bolt sizes and the spacing of holes
Ensure easy and permanent access to connections
Where feasible, try to ensure that the steel is free from coatings or coverings that will prevent visual
assessment of the condition of the steel.
Minimise the use of fixings to structural steel elements that require welding, drilling holes, or fixing with Hilti
nails; use clamped fittings where possible
Identify the origin and properties of the component for example by bar-coding or e-tagging or stamping and
keep an inventory of products
Use long-span beams as they are more likely to allow flexibility of use and to be reusable by cutting the beam

12 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

to a new length.

Working in partnership with BioRegional, Ellis & Moore Consulting Engineers, have developed a system of visual
inspection to check the structural integrity of steel sections. They are also able to offer advice on design detailing and
contract specification clauses for dealing with reclaimed steel. All reclaimed steel can be purchased from BioRegional
Reclaimed with a structural performance warranty from Ellis & Moore.

Reusing existing buildings

Existing buildings can be reused in-situ or dismantled and re-erected at a different location.

By reusing existing buildings, not only is demolition waste minimised but the new resources required to renovate and
refurbish the building are much less than those required to construct a new building. In addition, reusing existing
buildings can preserve the cultural and historic value of older buildings. Such as the redevelopment of Kinnaird House
which achieved achieved an excellent BREEAM rating.

Kinnaird House, London, Architect: Trehearne Architects

Retained facade

13 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

Shallow floor system behind the retained facade

Modern renovation and refurbishment techniques and systems enable older buildings to be improved and brought up
to todays high standards of building performance in areas such as thermal and acoustic insulation.

In-situ reuse

For many buildings it is the failure or deterioration of the envelope, rather than the structure, that precipitates its
premature demolition. This can be aesthetic deterioration, changing fashion or, as is often the case, the need to
update the envelope to modern standards of thermal performance.

A case study on reusing and extending buildings can be accesed here.

Reuse at a new location

14 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

Dismantled and relocated steel car park, Munich

In the example shown, this steel car park in Munich, Germany was dismantled and re-erected at a new location.

A case study on relocating buildings, the Honda central receiving building, can be accessed here.

Another example of such a project is 9 Cambridge Avenue, a warehouse which was dismantled and re-built elsewhere
on Slough Trading Estate to make way for the new Leigh Road bridge.

15 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

1. Re-use without melting: scrap re-use potential and emissions savings. Milford, R. 2010

2. Reuse and recycling rates of UK steel demolition arisings. Sansom, M and Avery, N. Proceedings of
the ICE - Engineering Sustainability, Volume 167, Issue 3, 2014.
3. Ley, J.: An environmental and material flow analysis of the UK steel construction sector, DEng thesis
submitted to the University of Wales, 2003

Further reading
Sustainable materials - with both eyes open. J Allwood and J Cullen, Department of Engineering, University of
Cambridge, UIT, 2012.

Case studies

Reuse and extending a steel

Prologis design for reuse
Lackenby open hearth steel
plant Honda central receiving

Circular Building, London

9 Cambridge Avenue, Slough

16 / 17
// - 15th September 2017
The free encyclopedia for UK steel construction information

See also
Steel manufacture
Construction and demolition waste
Life cycle assessment and embodied carbon
The recycling and reuse survey
Steel and the circular economy

External links
Bioregional reclaimed material

Sustainability and steel construction
Sustainable steel buildings

Powered by TCPDF (