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(PW076) When is the production and use of iron and steel environmentally sustainable?

Geyer, R1, 1 Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, UCSB, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

ABSTRACT- In 2003 global annual iron and steel production exceeded 960 million metric tonnes, more than 40 times the annual output of aluminium. Even though iron itself is not a toxic substance and not threatened by resource depletion, the iron and steel industry is a large consumer of fossil fuels and emitter of wastes and emissions. The environmental impacts per ton of iron and steel multiplied by the enormous scale of their global production and use result in a formidable environmental challenge. A mix of technological advances, economic incentives and environmental regulations has lead to continuous and substantial reductions in resource consumption and environmental pollution per ton of iron and steel. This, together with high recycling rates and levels of recycled content, encouraged some managers to claim that the iron and steel industry has already reached sustainability. However, roughly two thirds of the annually consumed iron still comes from primary resources, while significant amounts of end-of-life scrap are still lost from the iron and steel cycle. Reuse and remanufacturing of many products and components are shown to offer environmental benefits that far outweigh those of recycling their iron content, but seem to be on the decline and without much support from industry. Finally, the unabated growth of global iron and steel production is counteracting the environmental impact reductions per ton of output. This paper employs life cycle models of eco-efficiency, reuse and recycling and complements environmental with economic analysis to better understand the drivers and bottlenecks of environmental improvements in the use of iron and steel. These life cycle models are then combined with datasets on global material flows and life cycle inventories to explore the relationship between relative and total environmental performance and work towards an understanding of what it means for an industry to be environmentally sustainable.

Key words: Eco-efficiency, Iron and steel cycle, Reuse and recycling, Life cycle models


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