If there’s one waste the country wants more of, it is steel scrap. With domestically generated steel scrap falling short of what is required by steelmakers and the casting industry, India has been resorting to imports.

India imported five million tonnes (mt) of steel scrap in 2013-14, making it the world’s third largest importer of the metal, after Turkey and South Korea. While there is no official data on the amount of steel scrap being produced in the country, rough estimates put the figure at around 10 mt a year. With most of the business in scrap metal, including steel’s, being carried out by firms in the unorganised sector, where dealings are mostly in cash, keeping track of transactions is difficult, says Amar Singh, General Secretary, Metal Recycling Association of India.

The main sources of steel scrap are automobiles, construction and ship-breaking. While most scrap is usually melted and re-used, a large part of ship-breaking scrap is re-rolled by steel mills into bars and rods for use in the construction industry.

Useful ‘waste’ Steel scrap is unique in that it is 100 per cent recyclable – it can be melted and remade into new steel products. Given the high demand for steel scrap, largely from the domestic steel industry (the fourth largest in the world), scrap gets easily dealt with.

Steel is, in fact, the most recycled material in the world with scrap accounting for 40 per cent of the global steel production. Steel scrap serves as the primary input into steelmaking through the electric arc furnace and the induction furnace routes.

Close to 60 per cent of India’s crude steel production of 82 mt is produced this way. Steel from scrap requires 74 per cent less energy to produce than steel from iron ore and coal. In fact, every tonne of recycled steel saves 1.1 tonnes of iron ore and about half a tonne of coal. Recycled steel also helps reduce CO2 emissions by 58 per cent – as against the otherwise carbon-intensive steel manufacturing process. The only problem is that since the industry is labour-dependent and unorganised, safety norms are often ignored.