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Steel is used for making thousands of things from ships and cars to knives and forks, from buildings to food cans. Steel is strong, durable (lasts a long time) and sticks to a magnet.
Like aluminium, steel comes from special rocks called ores. Steel and iron are very similar materials and steel is made from iron ore. There are two main types of iron ore called haematite and magnetite. Much of the world's iron ore is extracted in North America, Australia, Brazil, Europe and China, but over 40 countries produce large quantities.
To get the metal out of the ore it is crushed, mixed with another rock called limestone and a type of coal called coke. The mixture is burnt in a furnace and heats up to around 1800ºC. Water boils at 100ºC so the furnace is very hot indeed! To get the furnace to such a high temperature a lot of energy is required.
The liquid metal produced drains to the bottom of the furnace and is poured into moulds.
When making steel, pure iron is mixed with a tiny amount of carbon, a solid black material. Coal contains a lot of carbon and the charcoal used for barbeques is pure carbon.
When things containing carbon burn, carbon dioxide gas is produced. Lots of carbon dioxide released into the air can cause climate change.
Once produced, the steel is poured into moulds to shape it into the final product.
Most recycling bins or Kerbie boxes take steel cans and they can also be recycled using can banks at Household Recycling Centres, Amenity Sites and some supermarket car parks. Your local Council can tell you where they are.
Wash and try to squash the food cans, but be careful not to use too much tap water. Maybe you could rinse them with water after doing the dishes at home?
- cans are sent to a recycling centre where the steel cans are separated from aluminium ones using a magnet (only the steel cans stick).
- the steel cans are crushed into blocks called ‘biscuits’ and sent to the recycling factories. Many steel cans from Northern Ireland are sent to factories owned by a company called Corus. Corus are the second largest steel company in Europe, producing over 20 million tonnes of steel every year!
- food cans are recycled along with scrap steel from other sources including cars, buildings and old ships.
- steel is one of the most recycled materials in the world and most food cans contain around a quarter recycled steel.
- steel is 100% recyclable and it only takes 25% of the energy compared to producing steel from the raw materials.
- reduces the need to mine the ore and the other raw materials needed.
- recycling steel also reduces air pollution by 30% and water pollution by 60-70%.
- steel is recycled much closer to home than the countries the ore came from in the first place. Reduced transport means less pollution, including carbon dioxide.