Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Steel is Good for you!

There are only a few us out here that write weblogs connected with the Steel Industry, so they are amongst the few that I make a point of checking daily.

Now Michael across at Stamping out a Living wrote an interesting article entitled“Environmentally Sensible Purchasing leads to Environmentally Sane Manufacturing” and it makes worthy reading for anyone with an interest in manufacturing and the environment, the full report can be found here. He writes not about the commonly discussed factors such as industrial pollution, but about the demand from the consumer for “throw away” products, and the impact that has upon these issues.

Firstly steel is essentially an environmentally friendly product. It is a simple alloy of naturally occurring elements, primarily iron. Like all natural resources we have finite reserves. Fortunately iron is a fairly abundant element, being the fourth most common element (by weight) to be found on earth. Indeed the earth’s core is predominantly iron in molten form. Iron has been used by man to make tools, utensils and weapons etc. since err “the iron age”!

One wonderful feature of steel is how readily it degrades, harmlessly and freely into its basic elements without any help from man, it’s known as rusting. In fact ask anyone with the “luck” to own a British Leyland car in the sixties, and they can witness to the fact you could watch them “rust away” on the driveway! Fortunately modern developments in technology in both steelmaking and manufacturing have given us products with much longer life cycles. A further benefit of steel is how it is constantly recycled. The steel in the car that you owned “way back” could well have had many existences since, as the primary raw material for electric arc steel production is indeed steel scrap.

Michael however addresses a different aspect, one of which I have some experience. That is the demand by the consumer for cheap products. The fact that many of these goods have a short life and are then simply thrown away seems not to deter. He gives examples of goods that fall in to this category and I would add a couple of my own.

Traditionally garden spades and shovels were made of carbon steels. The advantage of carbon steel is that it responds to heat treatment by increasing in hardness, greatly enhancing its’ durability, lifespan and “fitness for purpose”. Now spades made from carbon steel cost considerably more to manufacture and are resultantly more expensive. Many of the major DIY outlets pressurised the manufacturers to constantly reduce their prices, and to achieve this many producers opted to manufacture them from low carbon steel which is cheaper to buy and produce. The fact that these would be lucky to last a season seems to matter little to the distributors or the consumers. Another “everyday” example is the razor blade. As a younger man I shaved with a razor that used “disposable” blades made only of steel with no plastic in sight. You could buy the blades which were standard, anywhere (even along with something for the weekend from the barber).
I wonder how many plastic and steel throwaways find there way in to landfills everyday

I will leave with two thoughts:-

One. If you are using products made from steel then you have made an environmentally sound choice, pat yourself on the back.

Two. Is it worth paying a little more for a quality product that will last, or do we continue down the path of the throw-away society?

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