It’s almost impossible to find a household without stainless steel cutlery. Of course, stainless steel is used for domestic and culinary purposes; however, other industries use it too.
The construction industry certainly benefits from using stainless steel. It doesn’t rust easily and can withstand extreme temperatures. Stainless steel is also solid, flexible, and versatile.
If you’re taking conscious steps to protect the environment, you’ll likely be curious about the sustainability of steel, particularly if you need it for a large project. Well, in this article, we’ll explore just how sustainable stainless steel is. We’ll also provide answers to other significant questions regarding this essential material.
Is Stainless Steel Eco-Friendly?
When you think about it, it might seem like stainless steel isn’t eco-friendly. But, of course, its high demand in the construction industry may contribute to this opinion, and the same goes for its strength and resistance to corrosion.
Well, stainless steel is made from iron, chromium, nickel, and some other metals. These metals are derived from rocks and are non-renewable resources. This makes stainless steel an ideal eco-friendly material, and we’ll explain why shortly.
Stainless steel doesn’t need to go through rigorous manufacturing stages, and this means that less fuel is consumed in the process. It also requires no chemicals for this process; as such, there’s no disposable chemical waste.
While stainless steel requires non-renewable resources for manufacturing, we can recycle it repeatedly without diminishing its value. It can be melted and reshaped into a variety of items.
This material is also relatively easy to recycle too. However, you can’t just drop it at your local recycling center; you’ll have to find a metal recycler to take stainless steel off your hands.
Now, another factor to consider when determining if a material is eco-friendly is its disintegration. While it may not necessarily be biodegradable, as long as it leaves behind no adverse effects on the environment, it’s eco-friendly.
Stainless steel typically takes about a century to a thousand years to completely break down into natural elements. Of course, the process is perfectly safe for the environment; there were no added chemicals in the manufacturing process, as such, the decomposition will have no toxins to release.
Stainless steel contains iron, titanium, manganese, and some other metals beneficial to the soil. So, if anything, this material leaves positive impacts on the environment.
Is Stainless Steel Biodegradable?
For a material to be considered biodegradable, it has to be easy to decompose. Now, the decomposition process typically requires moisture, heat, microorganisms, and air.
We’ll also need to consider how long it takes for these factors to act together and break it down. The shorter the timeframe, the more biodegradable it is.
Microorganisms are essential members of the food chain. One of their fundamental duties is to break down biodegradable materials. It can take decades or even centuries, and sometimes, determining if a material is biodegradable depends on how long the decomposition process requires.
Well, regarding stainless steel, microorganisms cannot act on it and break it down. So, while stainless steel contains metallic components suitable to the soil in some instances, microorganisms have nothing to gain from it.
Stainless steel is also quite strong and resistant to corrosion. As such, at best, harsh weather conditions and time factors will be responsible for decomposing it. However, when it finally decomposes, it leaves behind tiny metallic particles that aren’t harmful to the environment.
Is Stainless Steel a Natural Resource?
Nature sure has made living relatively easier for us. We have access to renewable and non-renewable resources and the knowledge to use these materials to make life easier. Some of these resources include trees, and we use them to make paper, plywood, clothing materials, and so on.
We also have rocks, and this is where we extract stainless steel. However, stainless steel is a combination of different metals like iron, nickel, and chromium.
So, we can say that stainless steel isn’t a natural resource, but it’s derived from natural resources. Its production process is also environmentally neutral, and it consumes fuel but on a small scale.
It also doesn’t require chemicals to give it its form. Stainless steel is an alloy, and manufacturers can make it from iron ore or recycled materials.
However, technology has made it such that we can also derive stainless steel from recycled material by combining scrap steel and electricity. That way, we now consume a lot less of the iron and other metals we find in rocks and the earth’s crust.
In a nutshell, stainless steel isn’t a natural resource, but it’s majorly derived from nature. It’s an alloy or combination of a variety of metals with iron as the primary component.
Is Stainless Steel Bad For the Environment?
If you’re an environmentally positive person, you’ll likely be curious about the effect most of the materials you consume have on the environment. Well, here’s how we determine environmentally friendly materials.
We consider the production process it goes through. Then, we consider the finished product’s impact on the environment, sustainability, and its disposal method.
Now, let’s start with the production process. First, stainless steel must be melted at a very high temperature and then molded to the desired form. Like we mentioned earlier, stainless steel is an alloy material, which means that it’s made from a combination of metals.
Melting all these metals consumes plenty of energy, and when these fossils are burnt, toxic gases are released into the atmosphere. This contributes to global warming as we know it.
The consumption stage, on the other hand, is very environmentally friendly. Stainless steel is helpful to a range of industries, but it’s very common in the domestic and construction aspects. When stainless steel is used for exterior walls, it’s super resistant to extreme weather conditions and will not release toxins even in extreme heat.
The final condition is the disposal method. Stainless steel has a redeeming feature – you can recycle it severally without reducing its value or use cases. It’s one of the few materials that can be recycled repeatedly and remolded into an item of equal value.
The stainless steel components are such that they can be remolded together even after exceeding their melting points. In fact, it’s at this stage that the material is very pliable and will take any shape the recycler desires.
Can Stainless Steel Rust?
Chromium is what makes metals resistant to corrosion and rust. Stainless steel contains 10.5% of this metal, which is enough to prevent rust. When chromium comes in contact with oxygen, it provides stainless steel with a protective layer that prevents rust and corrosion.
So shortly, stainless steel can’t rust. However, if you don’t maintain the material, it’ll eventually rust.
Now, the higher chromium content in stainless steel, the less fallible it is to rust. There are over one hundred and fifty different stainless steel materials globally, which means yours may be more prone to rust than some others, but this depends on its chromium content.
While chromium helps stainless steel retain its glossy feature, time and extreme weather conditions can eventually cause it to rust. So, it may not rust within the first few decades to centuries of its use, but it will ultimately give in to rust with time.
The use cases for stainless steel also determine how fast it’ll rust. For instance, when stainless steel constructions are close to a pool, constant contact with water will cause make it fast susceptible to rust. This is because pool water contains chlorine in levels that can accelerate corrosion for stainless steel.
The same goes for constructions close to saltwater bodies. The salt content can also cause stainless steel to rust much faster than if it were in a neutral environment.
However, if you clean stainless steel properly, you can restore it to its original state. In addition, if your stainless steel item or construction comes in regular contact with chlorine or high salt content, then you can take preventive measures against corrosion.
Can Stainless Steel Attract Magnets?
Ferromagnetic metals are the only metals capable of attracting magnets. Some of them include iron, nickel, cobalt, and magnesium.
Have you ever wondered why magnets don’t stick to certain materials that look metallic? Well, the answer is simple. It’s because they’re weak metals. Gold, silver, and bronze are all metals, but they will never attract magnets in their natural state.
However, when you combine them with ferromagnetic metals, they’re more likely to attract magnets. But of course, the ferromagnetic content has to be high enough to override the weak metals before this can happen.
Now, regarding stainless steel, some of its varieties will attract metals while others will not. This is because stainless steel on its own isn’t a metal; instead, it’s a combination of different metals. Just as we explained earlier, there are over one hundred and fifty different types of stainless steel, and each one has a different level of ferromagnetic content.
The higher the metallic level, the more likely its chances of attracting a magnet. Stainless steel is an alloy that contains iron and a combination of other materials. Iron is a highly ferromagnetic metal, and it attracts magnets with ease.
On the other hand, stainless steel materials that contain more chromium than iron will certainly find it difficult to attract magnets. But again, some stainless steel varieties need chromium more than iron; it all depends on their target utility.
When your stainless steel material has a high iron level, you can be assured that it’ll attract magnets with ease. Of course, steel is also a metal, but in this case, it doesn’t stand alone; stainless steel is a combination of steel and other metals.
Materials like gold, silver, and bronze need to remain as natural as possible to retain their value. As such, manufacturers avoid mixing ferromagnetic metals heavily into them. This explains why in most cases, they will not attract magnets.
So, when your stainless steel material doesn’t attract magnets like you expect other metals too, it doesn’t mean it’s fake. It simply means it has more weak metals than other stainless steel items. It also likely has a higher chromium content, which will probably be the case if it’s stainless steel designed majorly for construction or areas with high chlorine or salt content.
Stainless steel is an indispensable material that’s versatile, durable, and aesthetically pleasing. As such, it’s little wonder that it’s in high demand in various industries. Our high consumption of this material may make you wonder if it’s sustainable and if our continuous use is a threat to the environment.
Well, we have answered every question you may have about the sustainability of stainless steel, its biodegradation, and its effects on the environment. So please, read up and make informed choices.