Should You Care About 90% Post Consumer Recycled Steel?

Not all recycled steel is created equally. You may have heard about pre- and post-consumer recycled materials before and just chalked them up to buzzwords, but the truth is that recycled steel is an important part of eco-friendly production. So what’s the difference? Why should you care about 90% post consumer recycled steel, anyway? And what does all of this mean for us at Klean Kanteen?

closeup of tkwide 90% post consumer recycled steel TK closure
closeup of 90% post consumer recycled steel straws

What is Post-Consumer Recycled Material?

First, let’s start off with what post-consumer recycled steel is in the first place. Basically, it is steel that has entered the manufacturing cycle after being used by someone else (hence, “post-consumer”). This steel is being taken out of circulation and it’s headed for the landfill. By using post-consumer recycled steel in our production, however, manufacturers (like us) can prevent the wasteful discarding of materials. We can give post-consumer materials new life and purpose without creating waste or requiring new resources.

What is the Difference Between Pre- and Post-Consumer Waste?

Now that we’ve covered post-consumer recycling, let’s get into pre-consumer recycling. (Pre-consumer waste is also commonly known as “industrial waste.”) Unlike post-consumer waste, pre-consumer waste is slated for the landfill much earlier, without ever getting used–in the case of steel production, we’re talking about various scrap steel that goes unused when manufacturers create steel products. What pre-consumer recycling does is, once again, rescue that scrap material and repurpose it for use in the production of other items. This is important because over the course of thousands, maybe even millions, of production processes, the amount of scrap steel adds up to be quite significant!

What Are the Environmental Impacts of Steel Production?

So what does the eradication of single-use products mean to us? Frankly: everything. A bottle or cup you can use forever is better than one you toss in the garbage after one use, and to make sure our products last a lifetime, we make them out of 18/8 stainless steel. But we know that we just can’t stop there. Traditional steel production is an energy-intensive and CO2-emitting process, and even though Klean Kanteen is a certified climate-neutral company, we know it is part of our responsibility to acknowledge and seek out alternative means of production that are the least harmful to the environment.

Steel is made by the processing of iron ore, the mining of which consumes huge amounts of energy and produces large amounts of gas emissions and water pollution. That’s the bad news. The good news–and the reason we are making the change to 90-percent post-consumer recycled steel–is that the recycling process of steel is much less harmful to the environment. In theory, every piece of steel in existence can last forever, repurposed as steel in some form or another, in perpetuity. Steel products can always be converted into other steel products, with relatively minimal need for new iron ore mining or new steel production.

So, when asking yourself, “What’s in it for me?” when it comes to choosing 90-percent post-consumer recycled steel, you can confidently know the answer is a safer, healthier environment. Purchases of these types of products will promote a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, cleaner soil and water, less perfectly good steel sitting wasted in landfills, and more eco-conscious jobs.

Which is Better, Pre- or Post-Consumer Recycled Content?

The short answer: Post-consumer recycled content is preferable, since it is better for the environment–using these materials reduces pollution and saves landfill space. Post-consumer recycling also repurposes products that have already gone through circulation, whereas post-industrial recycling often uses the scraps from the same manufacturing processes that created the scrap in the first place. So, when we say “virgin scrap steel,” we are referring to leftover steel that then gets used in the production of more bottles. But using post-consumer steel means that steel can come from a large number of high-quality steel products. It extends the life of perfectly good, high-quality steel that would otherwise go unused, ending up in a landfill.

What is Recycled Steel Used For?

Hygienic food and beverage containers, obviously, are extremely dependent on recycled steel, but that’s far from the extent of it. Recycled steel shows up in dozens, if not hundreds, of products you use every day, and every steel product you use or encounter contains recycled steel (at least 28 percent of all steel is composed of recycled materials). This includes coffee makers, automobiles, water pipes, air ducts, jewelry, home appliances, hardware, kitchenware, beverage cans, and more, and if it contains steel, it contains recycled steel. However, while the majority of recycled steel is pre-consumer waste, Klean Kanteen is committed to using certified 90-percent post-consumer steel.

Fun fact: Steel is the most recycled material in the world, and with good reason. It is one of the only materials on Earth that retains 100 percent of its strength through the recycling process–this is partially what is meant when you hear people say that steel is “100-percent recyclable.” This kind of quality retention makes steel incredibly popular in all kinds of manufacturing processes, across a wide variety of industries.

closeup of 90% post consumer recycled steel TKwide bottles and straws with silicone tip

Is Recycled Steel As Strong as New Steel?

Yes! As we mentioned before, steel is 100-percent recyclable and it retains its full strength no matter how many times it goes through the recycling process. This is vital to steel production because of its environmental implications: It is not only much more costly to process iron ore into virgin steel, but it also requires far less energy to melt down recycled steel for use in new manufacturing projects. Creating new steel is highly dependent on fossil fuels, but recycling it, according to Azo Materials, can save 1.8 barrels of oil, 10.9 million BTUs and 642 kWh of energy, and 2.3 cubic meters of landfill space for every ton of steel recycled.

You might be familiar with the process of “downcycling” in the recycling process, which is commonly used with paper and plastic products. Office paper, for example, is frequently recycled, but the wood pulp it’s made of does not retain its strength during the process. It loses its quality with use, and its strength degrades, and it no longer is suitable to be remade into more office paper. Instead, it will be downcycled into an inferior product, such as recycled paper towels or egg cartons. However, because of the magnetic properties of the iron in steel, steel does not experience downcycling–the quality does not degrade even when melted down for repurposing. A recycled steel panel could theoretically be reused to make a brand-new panel, without a loss of quality! This is what is sometimes referred to as the “infinite” process. Simply stated: Recycled steel is just as strong as new steel, no matter how many times it has been recycled. But because it requires much less energy and fewer resources to recycle steel, it is vastly preferable to use post-consumer steel.

Why is 90% Post Consumer Recycled Steel A Big Deal?

In general, post-consumer recycling is important because of the new life it breathes into products that have met the end of their consumer cycle. The classic example of recycling tires is one that illustrates how manufactured materials have more to offer even after they have become useless. A flat or blown-out tire is no longer useful as a tire, but repurposed into hundreds of rubber gaskets, balls, erasers, or thousands of other products you can imagine, we can see the importance of recycling the tire “post-consumer.”

The big difference between the rubber of a tire (or office paper, for example) and steel is, again, the retention of quality and the ability to repurpose a discarded or post-consumer item into other high-quality items. Steel’s ability to retain its strength through the recycling process, coupled with the environmental and economic benefits of using

recycled materials, mean that manufacturers can create high-quality products without making new waste, further impacting landfills, using excessive fossil fuels to produce new steel, or sacrificing quality.

When you see certified 90-percent post-consumer recycled steel in use, you can feel confident in its quality but also know that it was made with a responsibility to the environment in mind. And given that recycled steel is such a widely used material worldwide, it becomes apparent that using post-consumer recycled materials can make a big impact on reducing waste and energy usage. When consumers buy products made of post-consumer recycled materials, they help increase demand for recycled goods, which in turn cuts down the need to produce more new materials and keeps post-consumer waste out of landfills.

What is 18/8 Stainless Steel?

At Klean Kanteen, we always go above and beyond industry-standards, and we only use 18/8 stainless because it is widely regarded as the industry-preferred level of stainless steel because of its hygienic properties–that’s why it is commonly seen in commercial kitchen surfaces, appliances, sinks, countertops, cutlery, machinery, and cookware all over the world. Many bottle companies use a lesser-grade stainless steel that does not meet the necessary 18/8 composition.

closeup flat lay of tkwide 90% post consumer recycled steel

What is Certified Recycled Steel?

It’s one thing for us to just say we use 90-percent post-consumer recycled steel, and quite another for an independent, third-party quality assurance provider to make sure we are actually following up on that promise. Intertek is the certifying body that inspects and verifies all of the processes and materials in place by a manufacturer to objectively make sure they are following the parameters required. Intertek collects and analyzes data and documentation about manufacturing, processes, and chain of custody procedures to determine if the manufacturer is in conformance to their standards, followed by an on-site inspection by an evaluator, if necessary. After technical review, Intertek then issues a final report and decision on certification and adds the manufacturer to the Sustainability Certification Directory to validate the manufacturer’s processes and materials as “certified.” Klean Kanteen currently holds two certifications for Stainless Steel and 18/8 Stainless Steel, which makes it possible for us to maintain our Strong-as-Steel guarantee.

What Does This Mean for Klean Kanteen?

By 2023, 95 percent of our products will be made from our new, certified 90–percent post-consumer recycled steel. This change will result in some substantial impact reductions, including a 40-percent reduction in steel greenhouse gas emissions, a 30-percent reduction in energy demand, and a reduction in ecosystem impacts be between 60 and 80 percent. By committing to this new standard of using the highest–possible percentage of post-consumer materials, we are leading the industry’s charge to reduce damaging impacts on our ecosystem, all while maintaining the outstanding, food-safe quality we have always provided.

To our knowledge, Klean Kanteen is the first reusable water bottle and food solutions brand to use certified 90% post-consumer certified recycled steel. Many other companies use recycled steel (RE: Swedish 304) that contains lower levels of post-consumer content and are not third-party certified. However, Klean Kanteen is the first to guarantee a specific percentage of certified post-consumer recycled content in its products.

What is Klean Kanteen’s Strong-As-Steel Guarantee?

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Our goal is to reduce single use, plain and simple. So we make products guaranteed to hold up to whatever life throws at them. If you are not satisfied with one of our products at the time you receive it, or if it doesn’t perform to your satisfaction, return it to the store you bought it from or contact Klean Kanteen for repair parts, a replacement, or a refund.