Blog: The best example of circular economy in action can be found in Tornio

Niklas Wass – Executive Vice President, Operations, business area Europe


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Description automatically generated with low confidenceThe modern stainless steel industry is a prime example of circular economy in action. In fact, Outokumpu’s Tornio mill is Europe’s largest material recycling center.

When you buy a new washing machine you may get your old pot back in a totally new form. Your good old friend from the kitchen may have ended up to Outokumpu Tornio mill and been melted into recycled steel and further used by a washing machine manufacturer as part of a brand-new product.

Stainless steel is a durable material that fits perfectly into the circular economy. It goes from producing new products out of recycled steel, recovering and recycling everything reasonable in our production, to finally selling by-products from the manufacturing process to replace natural resources.

Recycling saves resources, and stainless steel is both made of recycled materials and fully recyclable, without any quality degradation. Durability is also important from the life-cycle point of view. Generally, stainless steel’s material properties enable lower life cycle costs combined with lower environmental impact.

Our stainless steel mills are significant recycling facilities. Outokumpu’s Tornio mill is Europe's largest material recycling center, with a more than one million tons of scrap processed annually.

Recycling and reusing as much as possible

Outokumpu's share of recycled material is the highest within the steel industry: over 90%. In addition to recycled steel, this figure includes recovered side streams, such as dust from smelting and scales from rolling. Recycled steel from both stainless and carbon steel is our most important raw material.

We also strive to recycle as much of the by-products from production as possible. In addition to metals, other materials, such as slag formers, acids, and gases, are needed in the production process although they do not become part of stainless steel products. Some of these input materials are needed to minimize or prevent emissions into the environment.

As far as reasonable, these materials are recovered and recycled in the process as well. For instance, the used acids are continuously regenerated for reuse, and the hydrogen from the bright annealing process is recovered in the incineration of the process furnace.

The slag generated as a by-product of Tornio's ferrochrome production can be utilized almost completely. Slag is used in road construction insulation or in concrete production. The special properties of ferrochrome slag road insulation include, among other things, better frost insulation and load-bearing capacity for the royal sand raw material. The road structure can be made thinner and thus save virgin aggregate materials.

Sustainable future enabled by stainless steel

Increasing the recycled content of stainless steel is the most efficient way for Outokumpu to reduce the overall environmental footprint. Outokumpu's emissions are the lowest in the industry due to the high utilization rate of recycled material. According to a study by Fraunhofer Institut, using a ton of austenitic scrap saves 4.3 tons of CO2.

We are continuously looking for best ways to recycle the metals of our melt shop dust. These side streams are either treated on site or by an external facility for recycling in our melt shops. Metal recycling is the main driver of the reduction of the upstream material emissions.

At Outokumpu we are working towards a world that lasts forever. A kid somewhere may be right now making sweet rolls using stainless steel dish and one day as an adult may wash dishes in a dish washer that includes stainless steel from exactly same dish that was used in the baking process. Our products and innovations not only help us, but also people all over the world.