How Much Scrap Steel Is There (USA)?

Just having visited a junkyard, I wonder if the USA needs to mine iron anymore-we seem to have plenty of scrap around. And, not just iron/steel-we have copper (old radiators), tin, lead (batteries).
If the USA recycled 100%, would we need to mine more metals? Or could we get by with recycling scrap?

With a growing need for steel worldwide, we could only get by without selling our excess abroad. Most all of our crushed old cars(steel) were sold for scrap to China in the last five years. I haven’t Googled for a cite, but I’m pretty sure I’m correct.

Anecdotal, but:

Having done some extensive travel through rural America I wonder if the largest mine for iron ore is above ground and in peoples yards. The number of junk cars that people hold onto is astounding. I guess it is some figment in their imagination that someday, somehow, they are going to restore the rusting heap into something useful.

Hint: It ain’t happening and even if you spent the time any money it would still be a loser. Just watch the auto auctions on the cable channels and see how little value restored cars have.

For purely aesthetic purposes, I hope that the price for recycled steel reaches the point that businesses spring up that go around and make it attractive for people to allow them to haul these pieces of junk to the recycling yards.

It’s not so much that they hold onto them; it’s more that the car/truck died there and costs money to remove. So it sits there, moldering.

There must be some pretty significant economic and practical advantages to mining over recycling. Since we are shipping scrap metal (and other recycling) to China I would guess that labour is a major expense.

I am always somewhat taken aback when I see a ship hull (or other large chunk of steel) sunk for disposal or abandoned somewhere. You would think that all that refined material in a big chunk would be valuable as a resource, but apparently its more of a liability.

Ship steel is recycled all of the time.

Some ships for various reasons having to do with the maintenance of a reserve defense and merchant fleet are mothballed in “ghost fleets” for a time. By and large these ships are eventually broken up and the steel recycled. Some hulls are sunk - this provides good training for our military forces in weapons targeting and also can provide an artificial reef for benefit of marine life.

I should also note that scrap steel isn’t just sold to China - it provides feedstock to domestic steel production as well.

For the below my post is my cite - I have the actual information on imports and exports but it isn’t mine to share.

First, understand that there are two ways of making steel - from scrap, and from virgin material (iron ore) and some scrap. The process is fundamentally different.

Making steel from scrap takes metallic Fe (scrap), makes it very hot, and the molten steel is slabbed or cast - it’s now new steel. This is done in an Electric Arc Furnace (EAF). (This is of course a gross oversimplification

Using iron ore (ferrous oxides - oxides of Fe and so not metallic) requires reducing the material (taking the oxigen out), during the melting process. EAF’s cannot do this. Traditionally, the benefit of making steel from ore (the Integrated Mill process) is that there are certain grades of steel EAF’s couldn’t make - like exposed automotive steel. This is changing, and it could be argued that EAF’s at this point could make most all grades of steel. However, for some grades at this point it would be uncompetitively expensive to do this - giving the Integrateds an advantage there. The integrated mills have given way to the EAF’s over time, but very gradually. Currently, EAF’s represent a little over half the domestic steel making.
Steel mills are not cheap to build. EAFs are way cheaper to build than Integrateds, but building a new EAF is still more expensive than running an existing Integrated plant in many cases, meaning that it will be a long while, if ever, before the Integrated steel production gets to zero in the US. This in turn means that iron ore will be melted for quite some time, regardless of scrap supply. Ore imports and exports are roughly equal, so the US is roughly self-sufficient, ore-wise - at least in theory.

But if we stopped melting ore, without reducing steel production at least 40 some percent, we’d be importing staggering quantities of scrap.

Samclem is incorrect, virtually no scrap cars were shipped to China. The cars were shredded here in the US. The product, shredded scrap, was predominantly consumed in the US. While there certainly was export, it wasn’t most all, or even a majority of the generation. Also, China and Turkey trade the lead spot for export destination on a pretty much quarterly basis, and most of the “clunkers” that were exported went to Turkey, China coming in second.

The US is currently a net scrap exporter, and has been for most of the decade. This is a function of the cheap dollar as well as growing overseas demand. The amount of scrap exported, however, would not suffice to replace ore based production if we shut it all down and replaced it with EAF production.

Also, most of those piles you see in scrap yards are fairly new material to that yard. Typical inventory turnover is about 45 days, though outliers certainly exist. (I’ve visited yards with scrap that’d been there since the 30’s) There really aren’t massive scrap “reserves” out there. Scrap is an actively traded commodity, with a fairly sophisticated distribution process.

I suppose the problem with recycling a ship is - how do you break it up? The drydock charges and labour costs of disassembly are probably prohibitive in North AMerica.

Saw some articles once on a place in India where large ships from all over the world are driven ashore so the locals can hack them up for scrap.

you probably saw this:

But isn’t a lot of steel taken out of the cycle by being built into bridges and buildings? In order to have a steel cycle with the same amounts cycling all the time, you’d have to replace that steel.

Scrap is generally divided into two categories: “prompt” scrap - when you make a car, some of the steel is offal, and “obsolete” scrap - scrap that is generated as the product containing the steel is scrapped. The prompt scrap is obviously available right away. The obsolete scrap varies. Post-consumer scrap rejoins the stream after a few years on average (much less for tin cans, much more for stoves, somewhere in between for cars) Infrastructure scrap returns after about 30 years (of course, also a big range)

International Shipbreaking, Brownsville, Texas.

Labor costs might be higher, but the company obeys all environmental regulations, which means they get contracts for dismantling Navy ships.

Thing is, metal recycling has been done since the bronze age. They just didn’t call it recycling back then.

The environmental cleanup costs loaded onto shipbreaking these days mean that it is impossible to do it and make a profit. The ship owner ends up paying someone to break it up, rather than them paying him. That’s why they’re run up on the beach in Goa and women and children break them up with hammers.
Generally, metal only gets recycled when it’s possible to make a profit out of it. Titanium, expensive for newly refined metal, for example, is virtually worthless because it’s so difficult to recycle.