Recycling and Recyclability

  • Steel is fully recyclable in both theory and practice with a current recovery rate for structural steel material of 98 percent, which makes it the world's most recycled and recyclable material.
  • Steel, when recycled, loses none of its inherent properties.
  • Steel is the world's most recycled material. Steel construction products have a recycling rate of more than 90 percent, which means that at the end of a steel building's lifetime, more than 90 percent of that building's steel is reused or recycled into another steel product using significantly less energy than was necessary to create the original product.

Green Building Rating Systems

Steel can be used to comply with the requirements of sustainable design standards such as:

  • International Green Construction Code (IgCC)
  • ASHRAE Standard 189.1, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings  
  • National Green Building Standard (ICC-700).

Steel can also provide credit points for green building rating systems like:

  • USGBC's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)
  • Green Building Initiative's ANSI/GBI-01, Green Building Assessment Protocol for Commercial Buildings.

Steel vs. Wood

  • Wood is typically a single-use material. At the end of its useful life, the demolished structure of a wood building is typically landfilled or incinerated. This returns any stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere as either carbon dioxide or methane.
  • Wood is a renewable building resource, but being renewable is not the same thing as being sustainable. Renewability is a single attribute, just like recyclability is a single attribute. Wood can no more be classified as a sustainable material based on a single attribute than can steel or any other building material.
  • The wood industry claims that for every tree cut down, one or more new trees are planted. However, the claim does not take into account that it will take many years before those saplings mature. In the meantime, the forest is depleted of the oxygen, water storage and filtration, wildlife habitat, global cooling, and other benefits wood provided by the mature tree. (From "Understanding Environmental Product Declarations [EPDs] for Wood [Current Problems and Future Possibilities"], The Sierra Club Forest Certification and Green Building Team, September 24, 2013.)
  • Trees are often harvested by clear-cutting, leaving large gaps in the forestland that impact the plants and animal species that are left behind.
  • Carbon is sequestered in the fiber of trees, but that does not mean that wood buildings become large reservoirs of carbon that is stored indefinitely. The reality is that carbon storage in wood products is temporary and is released back into the atmosphere by the demolition and subsequent decay of the wood structure or by fire.
  • The carbon that is sequestered in new wood construction is only offsetting the impacts of the release of greenhouse gases from wood buildings currently being demolished. Wood construction is not a new technology that will suddenly result in a quantum increase in carbon storage.
  • Eighty-one percent of forests in the United States are not certified, 11 percent are Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI®)-certified, and 7 percent are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC®)-certified. (From "Forest Certification Around the World: Georgia-Pacific, Sustainable Forestry and Certification," Georgia-Pacific, 2014). The sustainable harvest certification provided by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative has often been challenged as to whether it reaches the required threshold of sustainable forestry. SFI was created in 1994 by the paper and timber industry.
  • In actuality, only 7 percent of the forestland in the United States reaches the threshold of being considered sustainably managed.


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