Stainless steel – the Centennial Ecologist…
Stainless steel is 100% recyclable. It is the ideal material for many applications. In fact, from the very beginning, every stainless steel product that leaves the factory already has its own story attached to it. ‘New’ stainless steel products typically contain around 60% recycled content. That stainless steel lab sink or backsplash may have had a previous life as a water pipe or catering canopy.
As its centenary year approaches, this highly recyclable material is proving more popular than ever, with a growing demand for consumer goods forged from this corrosion-free alloy. In fact, he is now one of the oldest kids on the block; Since its discovery in Sheffield in 1913, humanity has discovered 18 other metals. Plus, there’s the little matter of the two world wars that have been fought, not to mention the advent of nuclear fission. While there are many superlatives that can be used to describe this high-quality metal (shiny, lustrous, durable, stylish, waterproof), “new” is not one of them. So why has this centuries-old metal found new life and is now used in everything from stainless steel countertops to stainless steel shower trays? Modern, minimalist homes are increasingly outfitted with stainless steel fixtures and fittings throughout. Stainless steel manufacturing is booming. When exactly did steel become so essential and so sexy? To answer that question, it is necessary to first consider the state of consumer culture in the 21st century.
Our throwaway society: where does stainless steel fit into…
We live in a disposable society. Consumer goods that were traditionally meant to last for years are now designed to be used once and then thrown away. Disposable mobile phones, thrown away when credit runs out. Disposable tents, £15 at your local supermarket. Take it to the music festival of your choice, throw it in the trash, and leave it for someone else to clean up. Six-packs of socks, £2 from the discount fashion emporium. Use them once and then throw them away; What’s the point of doing laundry when you can just buy a new set?
Nothing lasts forever, but nowadays it seems that nothing lasts, period. The disposable nature of consumer goods seems to fit the mood of the times. Since the rise of the Internet generation, attention span can now be measured in seconds instead of minutes or hours. There’s a reason YouTube videos are capped at 15 minutes and Facebook updates are capped at 420 characters. We like the world condensed into bite-sized chunks for our amusement; that way, as soon as we get bored, we can simply move on to the next, and the next, leaving a trail of discarded phones, cars, and kitchen appliances in our wake.
As convenient as the ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ policy may be, it is not so beneficial to the entity we affectionately refer to as Mother Earth. In recent years, the rise of environmentalism has made the plight of the planet a concern of all. Whether willingly involved or reluctantly cajoled, the environmentalist agenda cannot be avoided; it’s everywhere, from the recycling bins in the supermarket parking lot to the cashiers inside the store, making you feel guilty about giving up your plastic bag. Thus, paradoxically, at a time when half of humanity throws away more garbage than ever, the other half is determined to recycle, reuse and reduce our carbon footprint. Is it possible to be a consumer without ceasing to be aware of the well-being of the planet? Is it possible to throw away our unwanted trash without feeling obligated to pay penance for our sins against the planet? Yes, it is the short answer. But, and there’s always a but, it really depends on what happens to that waste when you’re done with it. Waste that ends up in a landfill is of no use to anyone; digging a hole and burying humanity’s trash will only obfuscate the problem as harmful gases are released into the atmosphere and heavy metals seep into the ground. As our planet’s precious resources are steadily diminishing, it is imperative that as much waste as possible be recycled. It is for this reason that stainless steel has suddenly found itself at the top of the environmental agenda.
Stainless steel products tick all the recycling boxes…
However, recycling isn’t just a one-time process: it’s an endless cycle in which one man’s trash becomes another man’s treasure, until that man’s treasure finally fades and is then relegated to the guest room. , and then to the attic, until one day it is taken to the appropriate recycling bin to become a treasure for the next generation.
Stainless steel may be fully recyclable, but the period between leaving the electric arc furnace and being re-melted is likely to be decades. Given metal’s impermeability to corrosion, it is usually recycled, not because of degradation, but because it is no longer required for its intended purpose. Tastes and trends change rapidly; one man’s modern stainless steel kitchen may be another’s industrial hell. However, aesthetic interpretations aside, the future of this versatile material seems to be assured. As natural resources like oil become more scarce and less profitable, manufacturers will start looking for alternatives to plastics and PVC. Given the comprehensive versatility of steel, coupled with its environmental credentials, the future of manufacturing appears to hinge on 11% chromium wrought steel alloy. From this heady mix is born this multifaceted metal.
For consumers who require cheap disposable tents and disposable socks, metal isn’t much use. However, for most other applications (domestic and commercial) it can stand on its own while ticking all the boxes: durable, easy to clean, aesthetically pleasing and of course environmentally friendly. Stainless steel doesn’t fare too badly for an inert metal that’s hitting 100.