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Facts and Figures about Materials, Waste and Recycling

Ferrous Metals: Material-Specific Data

By weight, ferrous metals (iron and steel) are the largest category of metals in municipal solid waste (MSW). The largest sources of ferrous metals in MSW are found in durable goods such as appliances, furniture and tires. Containers and packaging are the other source of ferrous metals in MSW. Large quantities of ferrous metals are found in construction materials and in transportation parts and products such as automobiles, locomotives and ships, but these are not counted as MSW in this analysis.

This web page is a brief summary of ferrous metals materials-specific data. For more comprehensive information, see the 2016 and 2017 Data Tables on the Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures Report page.

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This is a picture of a roll of steel sheets in a well-lit, clean factory. There are many stacks, each stack in the shape of a pyramid, with three rows on the bottom, two in the middle and one on top.EPA measures the generation, recycling, composting, combustion with energy recovery and landfilling of ferrous metals in MSW.

EPA used industry data, including statistics from the Steel Recycling Institute, to estimate nonferrous metal generation. The generation of ferrous metals was 18.9 million tons in 2017 (7.1 percent of total MSW generation). EPA examined the recycling of ferrous metals by various product categories. The recycling rate of all materials in appliances, including ferrous metals, was 60.3 percent. Overall, the Agency estimated the recycling of ferrous metals from durable goods (large and small appliances, furniture, and tires) to be 27.8 percent (4.7 million tons) in 2017.

EPA estimated the recycling rate for steel cans to be 70.9 percent (1.1 million tons) in 2017. Additionally, the analysis found the recycling of approximately 420,000 tons of other steel packaging that year, including strapping, crowns and drums. The recycling of ferrous metals included material collected through recycling programs, as well as metal collected at combustion facilities. The total amount of MSW ferrous metals combusted in 2017 was 2.3 million tons. This was 6.7 percent of all MSW combusted with energy recovery that year.

In 2017, landfills received 10.4 million tons of steel. This was 7.5 percent of all MSW landfilled.

Please see the EPA Methodology Document for information on estimating the generation and management of ferrous metals.

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Summary Table and Graph

The data below are from 1960 to 2017, relating to the total number of tons of ferrous metals generated, recycled, composted, combusted with energy recovery and landfilled.

1960-2017 Data on Ferrous Metals in MSW by Weight (in thousands of U.S. tons)
Management Pathway 1960 1970 1980 1990 2000 2005 2010 2015 2016 2017
Generation 10,300 12,360 12,620 12,640 14,150 15,210 16,920 18,190 18,690 18,890
Recycled 50 150 370 2,230 4,680 5,020 5,800 6,070 6,170 6,170
Composted - - - - - - - - - -
Combustion with Energy Recovery - 60 250 1,690 1,610 1,640 1,810 2,150 2,210 2,290
Landfilled 10,250 12,150 12,000 8,720 7,860 8,550 9,310 9,970 10,310 10,430

Source: Ferrous packaging generation and recycling information, along with ferrous recycling in appliances, is from the Steel Recycling Institute.

A dash in the table means that data is not available.


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