A durable steel
structure – The Forth
Rail Bridge (1890)
Steel and the
All steel construction products are inherently recyclable but structural steel elements
are also inherently reusable. These and many other attributes of steelwork are
becoming increasingly significant in the context of the evolving circular economy.
A circular economy is an alternative to a traditional linear
economy (often described as a take, make, use, dispose
economy) in which we keep resources in use for as
long as possible, extracting the maximum value from
them while in use, and then recover and regenerate products and
materials at the end of each service life through recycling and reuse.
Current end-of-life scenarios for structural concrete, timber and steel
Within the context of the circular economy it is important to
understand the difference between reuse and recycling.
• Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into
completely new materials and products, which generally
• Reuse is the subsequent use of an object in its original form
after its first life with only minor alterations.
It is also important to differentiate between different types
of recycling since the circular economy benefit can vary
• True or closed-loop recycling in which products are recycled
into products with exactly the same material properties. An
example of true recycling is re-melting steel.
• Downcycling which describes the process of converting
materials into new materials of lesser quality and reduced
functionality. Examples of downcyling in construction include
crushing concrete to produce aggregates for fill and chipping
timber to produce chipboard, etc.