Responsible Water Use
Water is an essential resource for Schnitzer, particularly in our steelmaking operations. As red-hot metal leaves our electric arc furnace, it is cast into billets and eventually rolled into reinforcing bar and other products. Throughout this process, water is applied to safely cool the product down. Thanks to a state-of-the-art water recycling system, the process water that is not evaporated is retained, recirculated, and reused up to five times.
Within our metal shredding operations, we use water to cool shredding equipment, as well as to reduce air emissions and suppress dust. These operations require approximately 14 gallons of water per metric ton of ferrous scrap produced. Our metal collection depots and Pick-n-Pull facilities, meanwhile, use minimal amounts of water, mainly for dust suppression, landscaping irrigation, and sanitation.
While water availability directly linked to the location of our operations is not a material risk at this time, in the context of climate change and extreme weather events, we are taking steps to assess our potential future water management risks and monitor our current water management performance. In Fiscal Year 2019, Schnitzer conducted a water risk mapping exercise using the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) Aqueduct Global Water Tool for all active operating facilities.
We annually deploy capital to improve our overall water management and conservation capabilities. As air quality pollutant controls evolve, our water usage requirements may increase, making ongoing efficiency improvements even more important. Our water strategy focuses on maximizing direct use of recycled water, reducing direct use of freshwater, and decreasing the amount of water we withdraw. Recent enhancements include the introduction of smart water and foam systems that reduce water waste during shredding operations and the collection of rainwater for supplemental use.
- 1 This graph shows normalized values against the sum of metric tons of finished steel sold, ferrous scrap shipped, and non-ferrous scrap shipped.
- 2 FY15-FY18 values represent restatements to adjust for reconciled water withdrawal volumes.
Managing storm water runoff
As we work to minimize water that we bring into our operations, we are also keenly focused on the environmental impact of water that leaves our facilities. When it rains, water comes into contact with the vehicles and scrap that have been delivered to our yards. Over the past five years, we have invested $97 million in environmental controls that help us to better capture and remove pollutants from storm water, and in controls for pollutants to air, soil, and within streams, before they are discharged off site.
In 2019, we began design of upgraded storm water treatment systems at eight Pick-n-Pull facilities in California, with capabilities that are expected to meet or exceed regulatory compliance requirements. Each treatment system is unique to the site, depending on its geography, property size, and surface types present, using a combination of technologies — from electrocoagulation, chemical treatment, media (rock, sand, and carbon) filtration, and expanded retention capacity. We expect to extend these upgrades to other auto and metals facilities in the coming years.