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The Metal Industry and Waste Management

The Metal Industry and Waste Management
Posted February 1, 2019

As Canadian metal workers, we're hyper-vigilant about how we treat our land. So, we thought we would take an aside today to talk about the current waste management ecosystem in the metal industry. There's a lot of talk about how the metals industry is impacting the environment (rightly so!) and we figured now would be as good a time as ever to touch on the future of Canadian metalworking in the face of growing environmental concerns.

This post is about the economic, political, and environmental concerns that we face every day. This is something that's dear to our hearts, so we're going to be as transparent as possible.

The Current Environmental Ecosystem of Metalworking

Canada's metal ecosystem is changing. From miners to producers to metalworkers, the way that we approach metal is adapting. We've always been subject to political and technological changes, but for the past few years, these changes are coming more rapidly than ever. Not only is the political ecosystem interested in metal from an environmental standpoint, but metalworkers are also evolving in the digital landscape to stay competitive.

But, these changes aren't going to slow down anytime soon. In fact, metalworking is undergoing a massive disruption, and we expect that the next few years will seriously reshape the entire landscape of the metal business.

Here's why.

Customer Concern

Simply put, consumers demand more transparency in the metals industry. We all know that metal impacts the environment (particularly production and mining). It's no hidden secret, and consumers are increasingly cautious about their footprint. In fact, 93% of global consumers expect brands to support environmental initiatives.

This means that the metals industry as a whole will have to adapt to upcoming shifts in traceability. Not only is looming regulation going to require transparency in sourcing, production, and shipment, but consumer opinions are deeply integrated with environmental concerns.

To combat this, the metal industry will have to adopt new tools and processes to keep track of specifics. Of course, this won't happen in a day, and a sustainable metals industry is years away. But, the impact of these changes will ripple through the next few years. We expect volatility to be introduced into the market, which will require adaptability and resilience to overcome.

For us, this means that we have to continue to improve the way that we approach environmental concerns. After all, we operate at high volume, and each decision that we make should be glued to the impact that our decisions have on ourselves, our customers, and our land.

Carbon Pricing

The world of metalworking is hinged on carbon pricing. As the concept of carbon pricing (CAD per tonne of CO2) spreads throughout the world in an effort to combat growing environmental risks, the metal industry will be impacted rapidly. Iron, steel, and aluminum constitute around 5% of industrial CO2, which means that the metal industry is at the top of the carbon radar.

The impact of carbon pricing on metal runs deeper than pocketbooks. It's going to radically reshape the entire pricing structure of metals. When end product costs are variable based on CO2 output, those pricing fluctuations will change the way that metalworkers do business. First, regulatory oversight will increase costs, while also introducing new systems to the industry (data processing, increased HR, legal, etc.). So, these costs will be passed on to the metal works, then (possibly) to the public. Second, stakeholders will dump stock, which may create disparities in pricing tiers of metals until the initial "shock" of regulation wears off. During this time, there may be unusual pricing patterns in the industry, particularly as it pertains to stock.

We aren't claiming that the change is negative or that the carbon pricing system isn't necessary, we're merely pointing out how this system is going to disrupt our current ecosystem. In fact, we think that changes in the metals ecosystem are mission-critical, especially when it comes to carbon and waste.

Waste

Understanding waste in the metals industry is difficult. There are tons of factors that contribute to the overall industry waste. Beyond carbon, toxic waste is a major problem for the metals industry. In fact, four times more toxic waste is generated than metal is extracted, which means that toxic byproducts of metal production is a serious issue. Of course, the Canadian government has long recognized this issue, and there are already regulations that are attempting to reduce this number.

But, it's not just the mining and production, some metalworkers generate significant waste products themselves. Poor metalworking practices can contribute to this number via improper disposal or disregard for recycling practices.

The issue runs deeper than the metal industry itself; consumers play a role in the waste generated by the metals industry. Did you know that recycling metal can significantly reduce waste?

In fact, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency recycling scrap metal results in:

  • An overall energy savings of 75%
  • A savings in virgin material use of 90%
  • A reduction in air pollution of 86%
  • A reduction in water use by 40%
  • A reduction in water pollution by 76%
  • A reduction in mining wastes by 97%
  • A reduction in consumer wastes by 105%

Not to mention the amount of space consumed by thrown out scrap metal.

Conclusion

The future of the metals industry closely mirrors the future of our land. As regulations increase and the industry evolves, we expect there to be disruptions that may shake some of our colleagues. For us, this means that we have to continue on our never ending quest to minimalize our impact on the environment. The truth is, we all need metal. It's the backbone of our country. But, we need to do be vigilant in ensuring that our metal consumption isn't destroying the land that we all love and share.

For the sake of the environment, our industry, and our country, the metal industry needs to overcome these initial barriers. We hope that the future of metals is brighter, cleaner, and more sustainable.

If you have any questions regarding the metals industry and waste management, contact us.

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