We live in a consumption-focused world, not giving much thought to the resources we use on a daily basis. From basic human necessities like food, clothing and shelter to advancements like technology, medicine and automobiles. We take many things for granted, knowing these items are plentifully available when we need them. For most, as long as we recycle what can be recycled, we feel we’ve done our part. However, we only get one planet! Earth Day was founded to bring attention to the needs of our planet, with a special focus on the environment. Its reach – and significance – has expanded greatly since 1970, with special attention on recycling and the impact humans have on the environment.
The first-ever Earth Day came about when John McConnell, a peace activist, proposed a day to honor our planet at a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco. Though it was to be celebrated on March 21, 1970, the first day of spring, U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson took the idea a step further. He proposed an environmental teach-in to be held on April 22, 1970 following an oil spill in California. It was there Earth Day was born. This marked the beginning of the environmental movement with millions of Americans participating in events in communities and schools across the country. 1990 marked the first international expansion of Earth Day, and the website states more than 1 billion people take part in Earth Day actions worldwide.
As an important part of modern society and one of the world’s most prominent industries, steel has made incredible progress in reducing emissions and the steel industry continues researching new processes to reduce the amount of CO2 emitted during steel production. Since 1990, when Earth Day went global, the North American steel industry has reduced the CO2 and energy intensity of each ton of steel produced by 37 percent and 32 percent, respectively. Additionally, steel is a major player in constructing green energy infrastructure. Check out The True Sustainability of Steel in Numbers infographic from the Steel Recycling Institute, WorldSteel and the American Iron and Steel Institute. The steel industry is part of the solution to reducing our impact on the climate. But steelmakers aren’t just doing more with less energy; they’ve made recycling a standard part of the steel-making process.
Steel holds the title of most-recycled material in North America – it is recycled more than paper, plastic, aluminum and glass combined. Scrap steel is the largest source of raw material in today’s steel industry, since steel can be recycled over and over with no loss in performance. Much of the scrap used to make new steel comes from automobiles, the most-recycled consumer good. Large magnets on cranes enable steel to be easily sorted and quickly moved along in the recycling process, a property of steel that saves both time and money. There are typically 60 to 80 million tons of steel scrap recycled per year into new steel products in North America. When taking into account all of the vehicles on the road today, steel’s dedication to sustainability shows. There is no denying the steel industry is committed to better equipping itself with the knowledge and capabilities to recycle more material for years to come.
Considering autos, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from both the production and recycling of steel with emissions when driving the vehicles creates the car’s life cycle. Life Cycle Assessment, or LCA, is a tool to compare the life cycle of vehicles. It looks at the emissions from every part of the automaking process. The Steel Market Development Institute (SMDI), a business unit of the American Iron and Steel Institute, promotes the use of steel in the automotive industry on behalf of North American steel companies and partners such as the Steel Recycling Institute. SMDI encourages consumers, automakers and regulatory agencies to consider the lifecycle of a vehicle when judging cars, trucks, SUVs and crossovers by their GHG emissions.
When taking a close look at the entire life cycle of steel, we see the steel industry takes its responsibility to the planet seriously – and not just on April 22. Already a leader in recycling, the steel industry is funding more research to create new processes to produce steel with fewer GHG emissions. This knowledge is enabling automakers to further reduce the impact vehicles have on the environment around us. It’s all part of the steel industry’s effort to create a better world.
How are you taking action this Earth Day to reduce your impact on the planet? What improvements have you made in your daily life to reduce your impact on the environment? Share your thoughts below!