What is the Recycling Impact of UK Steel Plant Closures?

The recent news that several steel plants in the UK are closing is devastating for everyone concerned.  The news reports state that thousands of workers will lose their jobs and that steel production in the UK may become extinct.  However, what could be the real impact?

Steel at Dowlais Merthyr Tydfil

The UK has a history of manufacturing steel in the UK with Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales being the steel capital of the world during the industrial revolution.  As with coal production, there appears to be a lack of political concern that the UK will no longer have such resources and the long term affect is unknown.

The loss of large parts of the steel making industry in the UK will affect other industries including the recycling sector.  The price of scrap steel has dropped dramatically in recent months, from £150 in January 2015 to the present level of £105 per tonne (No 2 old steel scrap).  Exporting steel scrap is challenging due to the low value and high shipping costs and this will put further pressure on recycling companies.

The recent closures will put added pressure on an industry that is already faced with being regulated out of existence.  It is ironic that there is continued political pressure to increase recycling rates without an appreciation that successful recycling simply does not work alone.  It relies on steel mills to purchase the scrap and once that customer is removed and the value does not warrant export, then where does that recycled product go?

The loss of steel manufacturing in the UK is devastating, but the long term implications are yet to be seen.

Bunting Magnetics designs, manufactures and supplies metal separation and recovery equipment including Eddy Current Separators, Magnetic Separators and have recently launched a new Stainless Steel Magnetic Separator.

5 Examples of Historical Recycling

Despite the modern day obsession with recycling and environmental issues, such activity has been common practice for most of human history.  Here are 5 examples of historical recycling:

Compacted steel and aluminium cans recovered using Bunting Magnetics magnetic separators
Compacted steel and aluminium cans recovered using Bunting Magnetics magnetic separators
  1. Archaeological studies of ancient waste dumps show that during periods when resources were scarce there was less household waste (eg ash, discarded plates and other pottery and other broken items such as tool).  This suggest that the waste was actually being recycled.  There are actual records of recycling activity as far back as Plato in 400 BC;
  2. Before the industrial revolution, which started around 1750, there is plenty of evidence of scrap bronze and other metals being collected in Europe and melted down for reuse;
  3. The term ‘dustman’ originates from when dust and ash from wood and coal fires was collected and then used as a base material in brick making;
  4. As the industrial revolution took hold, many secondary goods were collected, processed and sold by peddlers who combed dumps, city streets and went door to door looking for discarded machinery, cooking pots & pans and other metals;
  5. Around 1800, one of the best recycling initiatives of all was when some drinks manufacturers, notably Schweppes, introduced the recycling of glass bottles with consumers paying a refundable deposit;

Recycling has and will continue to be vitally important, but there are many initiatives from the past that could be reintroduced today.  For more information on the automated recycling of metals, go to the Bunting Magnetics Europe website.