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Door Handles and Recycling

How Green Is My Door Handle?

“It’s not easy being green,” or so says Kermit the Frog of Jim Henson’s Muppets. But for the global economy and nearly every industry, going green is no longer a lament. Rather it’s a call to arms being led in no small part by investors eager to realize sustainability in addition to profitability. They seek, among many goals, to reduce environmental damage and become more socially responsible members of their communities. For many businesses, and even entire industries, this means reducing waste through the use of recycled materials. Door hardware and door handle manufacturers and fabricators are in a nearly unique position in this regard, and as a result, we just may be one of the greenest businesses around.

In the United States, recycling has become a growth industry. According to the EPA, in the past thirty years, the recycled portion of municipal solid waste (MSW) has increased from less than ten percent in 1980 to more than 34 percent as of 2010, with no signs of leveling off. A key statistic in the EPA reports is the amount of metal recycling, which stands at 35.1 percent (EPA 2010). Although steel and aluminum recycling tend to get all the good press, it’s the nonferrous metals—mainly alloys of copper like brass and bronze—that are recycled at the highest rates. In fact, more than 70 percent of all nonferrous metals are recycled, which gives the green patina these metals achieve some real symbolic meaning.

Wherever you go, look at the door handles you use and you’ll see that many, and probably most, are made out of metal. And, whether they’re made of steel (generally stainless), aluminum, brass, or bronze, it’s likely they contain at least some recycled material. In fact, it’s more and more the case that any metal door handle you happen to grasp, will be made mostly, if not entirely, from recycled material. Recycling not only reduces waste significantly, but in most cases, it is both more cost-effective and energy-efficient compared to manufacturing and fabricating products from new metal refined from ore.

Let’s look at some recycling facts about the most common metals used in the manufacture and fabrication of door handles:

Steel:
More steel is recycled on a global basis than aluminum, glass and paper combined, making it the most highly recycled material—not just metal—in the world. Upwards of 100 million tons of steel are recycled each year in the United States alone. Steel can be recycled almost indefinitely without loss of strength, making it one of the greenest of all materials. Recycling steel from scrap not only reduces pollution from mining waste by 70 percent, but also reduces air and water pollution by the same amount.

Recycling one ton of steel saves:
• 2.5 tons of iron ore,
• 1 ton of coal
• 120 pounds of limestone
• More than 80% of the carbon dioxide emissions produced by smelting iron ore

Interestingly, the recycling rates of steel packaging (46%) are nearly double that of aluminum packaging (24%).

Copper and its alloys: Brass and Bronze:
Brasses and Bronzes are probably the most well-known families of copper-base alloys and probably account for more door knobs and door handles than any other metal. Brasses are alloys of copper and zinc, with white brass having a higher zinc content than red brass. Bronzes are alloys of copper and tin along with other elements such as aluminum, silicon or beryllium.

Copper, brass and bronze are also highly-recycled metals. Each year, nearly as much copper is recovered from recycled material in the United States as is produced from new ore. With the exception of wire, most of which uses newly refined copper, more than 75 percent of the metal used by copper and brass mills, ingot makers, foundries and other industries comes from recycled material.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, in 2011 the production of brass and bronze alloy ingots from recycled materials (ungenerously referred to as “scrap”) in the United States was 108,000 tons!

Unfortunately, even as green an industry as the door handle business has its limits. One of those limits is the inability to easily recycle acrylic plastic, a highly versatile material that is increasingly popular for door handles due to its ability to take any shape, form or color. It’s also very easy to clean, but we’ll talk about that issue in another article.

We shouldn’t end on a down-note, though, so look for more and more bright, beautiful and environmentally-friendly door knobs and door handles made of steel, brass and bronze!