Ferrous metals

Extract BIR Annual Report 2021

Let me first put on record how immensely honoured I feel to have been elected President of the BIR Ferrous Division and how committed I am to carrying on the excellent work of my predecessor Greg Schnitzer, who steered the ship through one of the most challenging periods in the ferrous scrap sector’s history.

One of the advantages of following in a long line of skilled Presidents is that I inherit many highly impressive initiatives from their time in office. This includes the quarterly “World Steel Recycling in Figures” analysis (compiled by our esteemed Statistics Advisor Rolf Willeke) which, for more than a decade, has enabled us to quantify the contribution of our industry to more sustainable iron and steel production around the world.

According to the two most recent analyses at the time of writing this report, steel scrap usage growth slowed as we headed into the second half of last year after a rampaging opening two quarters. Most notably, China’s steel scrap consumption soared 47.1% in the first six months of 2021 whereas, year on year, the country’s usage was only 18% higher by the end of the third quarter.

On the upside, it should be added that higher scrap use is now part of China’s DNA as it bids to limit CO2 emissions from crude steel production. The nation’s scrap ratio is still well below those of, for example, the USA and many European countries, and so there remains plenty of scope for further growth.

This deceleration in global scrap usage growth reflects a year of two halves for steel output. According to the World Steel Association (WSA), the global crude steel production total of 1.004 billion tonnes for the first half of 2021 was an impressive 14.4% higher than in the corresponding period of 2020 which, of course, was more badly affected by COVID-related restrictions on industry, travel and other aspects of normal daily life. Double-digit percentage increases were recorded every month for the entire March-to-June period, with the peak coming in April when crude steel production was an astonishing 23.3% above that of the same month in 2020.

By the middle of 2021, however, this growth was starting to lose its momentum, to the extent that world steel production in the second half of the year was almost 100 million tonnes lower than in the first six months. China, of course, was a major factor: having produced 563.3 million tonnes in first half of 2021 (up 11.8% year on year), this dropped to 469.5 million tonnes in the second half to give a production total that, for the year as a whole, was 3% down on 2020.

So what can we expect for the balance of 2022? The WSA’s outlook published last October projected that a global steel demand spike of 4.5% in 2021 would be trimmed to a 2.2% increase this year, with no growth at all anticipated in China given the combination of its renewed environmental focus and depressed real estate sector.

Orders for steel, and thus for scrap, were always likely to lose some of their impetus once the pent-up demand created by the pandemic had been largely satisfied. In looking ahead, however, we have ample reason to believe in a bright future for scrap usage. At our BIR Ferrous Division webinar last November, McKinsey & Company’s Senior Knowledge Expert Dr Steven Vercammen argued very persuasively that the global imperative to reduce carbon emissions would create a major opportunity to grow the scrap share of crude steelmaking raw materials beyond its current average of around 30% – even to the point of achieving a price disconnect to coking coal and iron ore.

Dr Vercammen contended that China’s scrap consumption had the potential to double over the next 30 years while Lee Allen of Fastmarkets, our guest speaker in May, made note of suggestions that China’s annual imports of ferrous scrap could soar to around 10 million tonnes in the coming years.

And yet there were clouds on the horizon as we entered 2022, including proposed changes to EU shipment regulations that had the potential to heavily restrict exports to many parts of the world. So while the globalized and environmentally-driven demand for ferrous scrap further underlines the importance of free trade, shipping rules are increasing their stranglehold on our industry.

This defies reason and must be challenged at every opportunity.

“In looking ahead, we have ample reason to believe in a bright future for scrap usage.”

Denis Reuter

TSR Recycling GmbH & Co. KG (DEU)


Ferrous metals are mainly composed of iron and have magnetic properties. Steel, an iron alloy containing carbon, is by far the most recycled material in the world. Total crude steel production in 2018 reached 1.8 billion tonnes, with verified data for 81% of global steelmaking indicating an associated steel scrap use of just under 470 million tonnes. A further 70 million tonnes of scrap is consumed by the world’s iron and steel foundries each year. Global external steel scrap trading - including internal EU-28 trade - amounted to 105.4 million tonnes in 2018 for an increase of 2.6% over 2017, according to BIR statistics.
The most commonly recycled items are scrap from industrial processes, and also end-of-life products such as containers, vehicles, appliances, industrial machinery and construction materials.

Proportion of steel scrap used in domestic steel production (2018):

Republic of Korea

These figures show that, throughout the world, use of scrap metal has become an integral part of the modern steelmaking sector, improving the industry’s economic viability and reducing its environmental impact. Compared to ore extraction, the use of secondary ferrous metals significantly reduces CO2 emissions, energy/water consumption and air pollution. At the same time, the recycling of steel makes more efficient use of the Earth’s natural resources.


World Steel Recycling in Figures 2017-2021

World Steel Recycling in Figures 2017-2021

pdf English 2016-2020

pdf English 2015-2019

pdf English 2014-2018

pdf English 2013-2017

pdf English 2012-2016

pdf English 2011-2015

pdf English 2010-2014

pdf English 2009-2013

pdf English 2008-2012

pdf English 2007-2011

pdf English 2006-2010

pdf English 2005-2009





In general, metal recycling is a pyramid industry with many small companies at the bottom feeding scrap to large multi-nationals at the top. Steel recycling involves some, or all, of the following steps:

Sorting:  Magnets attract steel and so, through the use of magnetic belts, this metal can be easily separated from other recyclables such as paper in a recycling facility. Different kinds of steel do not need to be separated.

Shredding:  Shredders incorporate rotating magnetic drums to extract iron and steel from the mixture of metals and other materials.

Media separation: Further separation is achieved using electrical currents, high-pressure air flows and liquid flotation systems. 

Shearing: Hydraulic machinery capable of exerting enormous pressure is used to cut thick, heavy steel recovered from, for example, railways and ships. Other cutting techniques, such as the use of gas and plasma arc torches, are sometimes employed.

Baling: Iron and steel products are compacted into large blocks to facilitate handling and transportation.


Steel is ideal for recycling because it does not lose any of its inherent physical properties during the process, which can be repeated ad infinitum. Steel is 100% recyclable and, therefore, recycled steel can be used for the same applications as steel produced from virgin material. Products that are made of recycled steel include:
  • Construction materials for roads, railways, infrastructure & buildings

  • Electrical appliances

  • Cans & containers

  • Automobiles & other vehicles

  • Office supplies

  • Hardware such as bolts, nuts and screws


  • Recycling one tonne of steel saves 1100 kg of iron ore, 630 kg of coal and 55 kg of limestone.
  • Recycling one tonne of steel saves 642 kWh of energy, 1.8 barrels (287 litres) of oil and 2.3 cubic metres of landfill space.
  • Every tonne of steel made from recycled scrap saves enough energy to power four homes for a whole year.
  • Steel recycling uses 74% less energy, 90% less virgin material and 40% less water; it also produces 76% fewer water pollutants, 86% fewer air pollutants and 97% less mining waste.
  • A BIR-commissioned study conducted by Imperial College London has concluded that CO2 emissions are reduced by 58% when using ferrous scrap in steelmaking rather than virgin ore.

Divisional Board


Denis Reuter

TSR Recycling GmbH & Co. KG (DEU)

George Adams

SA Recycling (USA)

Tom Bird

BIR President

Mogens Bach Christensen

H.J.Hansen Genvindingsindustri A/S (DNK)
General Delegate

Daniela Entzian


Shane Mellor

Mellor Metals Ltd (GBR)

Quintin Starkey

MRA – Metal Recyclers Association of South Africa (ZAF)

Ted Taya

Shinsei Scrap CO LTD (JPN)

Rolf Willeke

Statistics Advisor of the BIR Ferrous Division (BEL)

Shredder Committee


Alton Scott Newell III

Newell Recycling Equipment (USA)

George Adams

SA Recycling (USA)

Kevin Gershowitz

Gershow Recycling Corp (USA)

Thomas Papageorgiou


Gregory Schnitzer

Sims Metal Management Global Trade Corporation (USA)

Salam Sharif

Sharif Metals Group DMCC (ARE)

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