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Understanding the total life cycle cost implications of reusing structural steel

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Reuse of structural steel could be an environmentally superior alternative to the current practice, which is to recycle the majority (88%) of scrap steel. In spite of the potential benefits, and in a time when “sustainability” and “climate change” are critical societal issues, the question arises: why are greater rates of structural steel reuse not being observed? One of the major factors in the rate of structural steel reuse is how decision-makers understand the life cycle implications of their choice to recycle steel rather than reuse it. This paper contributes towards our understanding of these implications, particularly the cost implications, of reuse as an alternative to recycling by presenting a streamlined life cycle analysis and identifying the major contributors to each process. The results of a case study indicate that a significant reduction in some life cycle impact metrics (greenhouse gas emissions, water use) can result from reusing structural steel rather than recycling it. The largest contributors to the life cycle impact of recycling were the shredding, melting, and forming sub-processes. The largest contributor to reuse was the deconstruction sub-process. A total life cycle cost analysis is performed to understand the cost of damages to the environment and human health in combination with the cost of construction activities. Sensitivity and uncertainty analyses are also conducted to quantify variability in the results and determine economic conditions where the two processes have an equal cost.

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The authors would like to gratefully acknowledge the financial support provided by National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada through the Graduate Research Studentship (GRS) program in form of a scholarship awarded to the first author.

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Correspondence to Jamie Yeung.

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Yeung, J., Walbridge, S., Haas, C. et al. Understanding the total life cycle cost implications of reusing structural steel. Environ Syst Decis 37, 101–120 (2017).

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