Stainless steel is so commonplace that it’s easy to forget just how much of a marvel it once was. And even today, the same properties that once made it headline news still drive its high demand around the world. Its most standout trait is its incredible resistance to corrosion. Standard ferrous metals, which include iron and steel, will rust and corrode readily when exposed to oxygen and water. But with the addition of chromium, steel can be made impervious to corrosion. This corrosion resistance pairs well with the strength and durability of steel, which is why it is used in tools and is implemented in many industries.
Stainless Steel’s a Big Deal
Stainless steel isn’t just a single metal – it is made in more than 150 varieties, each intended for a particular setting and purpose. Additional elements, usually metals, are added to the stainless steel to impart more qualities into the material. For example, adding carbon to the metal improves its strength and hardness. With nickel, the metal can be made nonmagnetic and less brittle. Manganese can be added to the stainless steel to help preserve the metal’s chemical structure while it is worked.
And stainless steel varieties are usually designed for resistance against certain acids. The only acid that cannot be handled by any form of stainless steel is hydrochloric acid, which will produce instant damage.
With so many varieties of stainless steel, it’s no surprise that it is also found in a huge variety of applications. Some of them include:
- Restaurants – Perhaps the most ubiquitous application of stainless steel is in the food industry. It’s a preferred surface material for restaurant owners because it is durable, resistant to moisture and heat, and because it is easy to clean. The last point is especially important, as the presence of stainless steel helps control foodborne pathogens. As such, it is used liberally in kitchen spaces, including tables, cabinets, prep areas and appliances. When it’s time to renovate a kitchen, it may be necessary to dispose of hundreds, even thousands of pounds of stainless steel – a veritable bounty for a scrapper.
- Aircraft – Older aircraft were once made with stainless steel bodies and wings, but that’s no longer standard, as aluminum is lighter and plenty durable on its own. However, it is still used in aircraft components, especially in areas where high levels of friction are expected.
- Machine shops – Stainless steel parts are standard in many industries, and they have to be fabricated somewhere. Machine shops go through tons of the material every year, and those excess shavings that are produced during fabrication are often disposed of. They would be put to better use by being recycled, but metal recovery experts have to be careful with this form of stainless steel. In most cases, it will be covered in a lubricant for safer cutting. If it is not cleaned off prior to delivering the scrap to the recycling facility, it won’t be worth as much.
- Locomotives – The U.S. is one of the last countries to utilize train cars that have been made from stainless steel. In most parts of the world, stainless steel cars have been replaced by aluminum bodies. In the U.S., then, there may be tons of stainless steel available when processing decommissioned railcars.
- Architectural fixtures – Stainless steel is used in all kinds of fixtures due to its ability to resist rust and retain its luster even when contacted. It’s popular in appliances, handles, banisters and light housings, and can generally be found in every home or commercial building. When a building is brought down, then, there is often a good amount of stainless steel to be had.
Stainless steel is normally easy to recognize, and most varieties will not respond to magnetism, so testing it with a magnet is a simple way to identify it. Stainless steel components are often stamped with identifying markers that also belie its composition, so there’s rarely a problem in figuring out what kind of stainless steel is present.
Still, it is a heavy material, and it may take a great deal of manpower and technology to carry the metal away. This is why most commercial and industrial facilities rely on experienced metal recovery experts to pass the metal off to. These professionals have proven their ability to handle entire lots of aggregate material to extricate the stainless steel, which is essential for processing things like aircraft or locomotives.
Stainless steel may not be rare, but it is extremely useful. It shouldn’t be tossed aside, then, especially because it is readily recyclable. Handing off stainless steel to a metal recovery expert pays significant dividends in preserving natural resources and in reducing the impact on the environment.