From Trash to Treasure: Recycling Scrap Metal into Steel: We Need to Convey a Strong Message to Our Youth That, without Technologists and Engineers, Our Way of Life Can Be at Risk

By Cantu, Diana | Technology and Engineering Teacher, September 2011 | Go to article overview

From Trash to Treasure: Recycling Scrap Metal into Steel: We Need to Convey a Strong Message to Our Youth That, without Technologists and Engineers, Our Way of Life Can Be at Risk


Cantu, Diana, Technology and Engineering Teacher


The expression "one person's trash is another person's treasure is an accurate statement for companies that rely on recycling trash to produce new products used in everyday lives. Trash may not be seen as a treasure by many; however, through innovations in technology and engineering, it provides the ability to reuse materials that reduce the consumption of natural resources and lessen the negative impact on the environment.

Each American produces approximately four and a half pounds of trash each day, consequently making the United States responsible for producing more trash than any other country on the planet (Amsel, 2011). Approximately 80% of what Americans throw away each day is recyclable; however, just 28% of those items are being recycled (Carpenter, 2010). In Europe, Austria is currently leading the recycling efforts, with approximately 60% of its waste being recycled. Greece is falling short, with only 10% of its waste being recycled. The UK is estimated to recycle about 17.7%, with Ireland, Italy, Portugal, and Luxembourg following not too far behind (Environment-Green, 2008). In many countries, recycling is occurring because there are financial penalties associated with discarding trash. For example, Sweden has a strong financial incentive to recycle because any trash placed into a "rubbish" bag is assessed a fee. Prepaid stickers must be purchased (average cost is one euro per sticker) and placed on "rubbish" bags that will be picked up by a waste management company. However if there is no sticker, the bag is not picked up (Foulkes, 2005).

Trash is having a global impact not only on land, but at sea--making its way into the ocean and creating large islands of floating debris. One such island is The Great Pacific Trash Patch, which is located in the North Pacific and is made up of floating trash and debris that is spread out in an area as much as one and a half times the size of the United States and reaches depths of over 100 feet (Kostigen, 2008). Kostigen (2008) states, "The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that 70 percent of marine litter sinks," (para. 11). If much of the debris is sinking, what are the effects on marine life living on the ocean floor and swimming in and around the debris? What are the effects on humans consuming sea products fished from areas in and around this floating island? There have been many suggestions as to how to remedy this problem; however, the debris remains, and it continues to disrupt marine ecosystems.

How does a global society address the growing trash problem? Education is one of the best preventers, as is recycling. Recycling can not only improve our growing trash problem globally, it can also help reduce the impact made to our environment. Recycling companies are creating sustainable products such as recycled paper cups, soda cans, glass, and steel. The efforts from the recycling industry have helped businesses thrive on trash, making trash truly a treasure.

Scrap Recycling and Steel

The question remains as to why industries and individuals have not done more to reduce the trash impact on our environment. One solution to the growing trash crisis lies in the growth of recycling companies and their technologies that can help minimize the impact to the environment by reusing already made materials to make new products for consumer use. There are many industries that thrive from recycling products such as paper, plastic, and scrap metal. Scrap metal (Figure 1), for example, is recycled and made into various products. Much of the scrap metal contains the iron (Fe) element (or ferrous scrap), which is the basic element in making steel. By infusing this metal with other alloys, various steel products can be produced. According to the Steel Recycling Institute (2011):

   Steel is North America's number one recycled material.
   Each year, more steel is recycled than aluminum, paper,
   glass, and plastic combined! … 

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From Trash to Treasure: Recycling Scrap Metal into Steel: We Need to Convey a Strong Message to Our Youth That, without Technologists and Engineers, Our Way of Life Can Be at Risk
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