Waste management in the UK steel industry in socio-technical perspective

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Information about Waste management in the UK steel industry in socio-technical perspective
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Published on January 20, 2014

Author: fionnmackillop

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My paper on how waste is constructed from a socio-technical and anthropological perspective. Focus on UK steel industry. Based on observation on steel plants. Discussion of role of technology, management and other variables.

This article was downloaded by: [University of Southern Queensland] On: 04 March 2013, At: 16:49 Publisher: Routledge Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Journal of Environmental Planning and Management Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cjep20 The construction of ‘waste’ in the UK steel industry Fionn MacKillop a a Geography Department, University of Durham, UK Version of record first published: 19 Feb 2009. To cite this article: Fionn MacKillop (2009): The construction of ‘waste’ in the UK steel industry, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 52:2, 177-194 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09640560802666529 PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Full terms and conditions of use: http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-andconditions This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.

Journal of Environmental Planning and Management Vol. 52, No. 2, March 2009, 177–194 The construction of ‘waste’ in the UK steel industry Fionn MacKillop* Geography Department, University of Durham, UK Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 (Received June 2008; final version received November 2008) The steel industry has undergone profound changes of late with high profile takeovers (Tata-Corus and Mittal-Arcelor) that are part of a shift of the industry from the global North to the global South. Steel is probably the material of the globalised world with its icons and power horses (the aeroplane, the cargo ship, the automobile), it is extremely flexible in its applications, and fits into the current discourse on ‘sustainability’ because it is ‘recyclable’. Indeed, the industry is keen to stress its ‘green’ credentials and efficient management of material flows in a context of rising costs, particularly of raw materials. Paradoxically, steel tends to be seen, not least by the social sciences, as an ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘dirty’ industry. This paper explores this apparent paradox through the issue of ‘waste’ management in the industry because it allows an analysis of the multidimensional relationships between materials, technologies and practices. Drawing on the resources of social as well as material sciences, the paper analyses to what extent ‘waste’ management is an issue of objective material properties, in contrast to social and organisational perceptions and practices around materials. Keywords: steel; waste; governmentality; hybrid; Science, Technology and Society (STS); social construction 1. Introduction The global steel industry has figured rather largely in the media in recent times, with high profile takeovers of big Western players Arcelor and Corus by relatively unknown companies based in developing countries (Mittal and Tata). The industry’s traditional hierarchy has been profoundly transformed, while rising costs of raw materials and shipping threaten to destabilise the industry even further. However, paradoxically, steel does not figure high on research agendas in the social sciences: it tends to be neglected as an old ‘smokestack’ industry that has nothing to teach us and that we have nothing to say about. This is not to say that there is no research on steel in social sciences, but it tends to be rather dated and focused on labour relations or working practices, with a certain neglect for matter. In this research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC) ‘Waste of the World’ programme,1 the paper argues that the industry can help us to understand the social, economic and environmental aspects of the transformation of materials, especially through the unintended surpluses in production, i.e. ‘wastes’. This term is used in quotes here because the study is not primarily concerned with *Email: fionn.mackillop@durham.ac.uk ISSN 0964-0568 print/ISSN 1360-0559 online Ó 2009 University of Newcastle upon Tyne DOI: 10.1080/09640560802666529 http://www.informaworld.com

Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 178 F. MacKillop what waste ‘is’, but with how given materials become constituted, materially and socially. As such, the concern is with flexible, variable processes that combine humans and non-humans in specific contexts. The issue of ‘waste’ in the steel industry is relevant because it is becoming a key variable for companies throughout the world. Indeed, governments and public opinions are demanding ‘cleaner’ production to protect the environment, while the rising cost of raw materials is, officially, an incentive for companies to try and close material loops. Thus, the steel industry offers opportunities to re-engage social sciences with the materiality of production and waste, while shifting the focus from municipal to industrial waste, the latter having been relatively neglected in the literature compared to the former. Research was carried out in steel plants owned by a major global steel company based in the UK and the Netherlands. This research involved interviews with senior executives and retired workers as well as with waste management company executives from contracting companies. Interviews with steel industry experts and consultants were also carried out. The semi-structured interviews were designed to gain first hand knowledge from industry insiders, whilst confronting points of view between plants in the same company, as well as inside and outside of the company. As a non-expert, first hand knowledge of industry discourses, representations and attitudes was essential to get a feel for what could be called the steel industry culture, i.e. the dominant tenets, but also the disagreements and controversies. This was enriched by visits to the plants and observations of the production process, which made it possible to understand what the materiality of steelmaking really entails. Beyond the various ‘ingredients’ (iron ore, coke, sinter etc.), equations, temperatures and other devices that are described in textbooks and websites, there are humans engaging with (often unruly and potentially fatal) matter, mediated by non-human instruments, such as blast furnaces, computer screens and excavators. Therefore, observations at plants were crucial in understanding this aspect of dealing with materials. These first hand sources were completed by a thorough review of the existing technical and organisational literature about the industry, as well as by participation in international conferences organised by global steel. By combining these main types of sources, a reasonably accurate understanding of steelmaking was gained from material and a social points of view. Thus, this paper questions the socio-material construction of the ‘waste’ category in the production of steel. Drawing on social, as well as on material sciences, the paper analyses to what extent ‘waste’ management is an issue of ‘objective’ material properties, in contrast to social and organisational perceptions and practices around materials. The method to approach the social/ material realities of steel production is based on highlighting, analysing and deconstructing the discourses that were experienced during the interviews and plant tours. Indeed, it is essential to engage seriously with what actors in the field say about their practices and how they envision their activities, and to bring these aspects of actors’ experiences and representations to the fore. Of course, by crossing and confronting these discourses, the paper does not claim to reach the ‘truth’ about production and waste management in the industry, but it is believed that the study gives a realistic outline of what discourses and practices concerning materials in the industry are like, of what is seen as ‘possible’ or not, of what can and cannot be said. In addition, this paper emphasises the practical and technical realities (including the hard economic facts that structure day-to-day discourses and practices) of dealing with steel and its associated ‘wastes’.

Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 179 Indeed, practices concerning materials do not occur in a void, but are intertwined with apparatuses and instruments, as well as knowledge, explicit, implicit and embodied. Of course, these practices need to be analysed and contrasted in light of the discourses in order to grasp the interstitial space of what actually gets done and why. Therefore, the resources provided by the literature on STS (Science, technology and society studies), such as Latour (1991) are of particular use in trying to understand these multiple social/material strands and the ‘hybridation’ of human and non-human in production processes, of which ‘waste’ is a key example, as it is constituted of materials, practices, representations, legislation etc. This approach is complemented by the tools of governmentality as exposed generally in Dean (1999) and, in the field of waste management, Bulkeley et al. (2007). Indeed, concepts of regimes of practice, ethos and techne apply to the object studied here and make it possible to understand shifting practices as well as discrepancies between discourses and actions. The latter paper offers the interesting idea of the coexistence of a multiplicity of ways of governing waste. Thus, drawing on these resources, the paper asks: how is ‘waste’ constituted in the UK steel industry, and how might this social/material constitution evolve in the near future? 2. Problematising the ‘objective’ factors The general process of steel manufacturing is well known,2 therefore this study does not examine it in great detail. However, the abundance of technical knowledge is in stark contrast to the little interest that social sciences currently seem to take in the subject, which is very different from the large number of studies in the 1970s and 1980s (Hudson and Sadler 1989, Hudson et al. 1991), denoting a sense that the industry is now thought of as ‘old-fashioned’. The consequence may be that steel is seen as relatively straightforward, with known materials entering the process and well-defined finished products exiting it. In contrast with this linear view of production, the material complexity of steelmaking is emphasised: the wide array of materials mobilised in the production process, undergoing complex transformations, and, ultimately, widely varying fates, including that of becoming ‘waste’. 2.1. The material and social complexity of steelmaking There are two routes in steelmaking: the integrated plant, where iron is produced from iron ore and then refined into steel, and the Electric Arc Furnace (EAF) route, where scrap is melted. If the final product, steel, is similar, the flows of materials and the quantities and qualities of the ‘wastes’ generated can differ. The integrated route, with iron being reduced from iron ore in a Blast Furnace (BF) and subsequently refined in a Basic Oxygen Furnace (BOF), is the dominant mode (approximately 60– 70% of total world production). Iron ore, coke and lime, in the form of sinter,3 are loaded in a BF where a reaction produces liquid iron. Then, in the BOF, oxygen is blown on the iron in order to refine it into steel by removing carbon, phosphorous and other elements. These two operations generate various surplus materials (gases, dusts, slag etc.). Secondary steelmaking operations follow, where steel undergoes physical and chemical treatments to give it specific properties. The steel can then be cast and rolled. Each of these subsequent steps also generates surplus materials, such as mill scale, oily sludge etc. The EAF process generates specific materials, especially

Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 180 F. MacKillop dusts, but also slag and gases. Evidence for the research presented here was gathered from two integrated steel plants and one EAF plant.4 Of course, beyond steelmaking stricto sensu there are other activities involved, each with their intended and unintended material outputs, for example, cokemaking, with its associated dusts and gases as well as flows of contaminated water. Sintering generates highly toxic dusts and dioxins can also cause concerns. Therefore, simply analysing the steps of steelmaking itself is not enough to understand the full impact of the production of steel (its ‘footprint’) or to gain a complete picture of ‘waste’ management in the industry. However, the research here necessarily focuses on specific parts of the production process and their associated material cycles. The material complexity of the industry is mirrored by its social complexity, i.e. the wide array of job positions, the important number of different operations, as well as the division between company employees and contractors that all contribute to defining the social artifact of ‘the steel company’, a monolithic term which gives an unwarranted impression of uniformity and unity of purpose. Indeed, different positions in the company mean different experiences of the materiality of steel production and ‘waste’, as well as different ways of engaging, conceptually and physically, with these materials. There can be a profound discrepancy between management’s position on ‘waste’, that of its environmental officers or middle management, and the representations and practices of those who have to deal with ‘waste’ and its associated risks on a day-to-day material basis. Workers on the shop floor as well as contractors are exposed to real dangers, the latter even more so as the figures for injuries and even fatalities show. While the paper will not be expanding on this issue as such, it will be seen that different perceptions and different physical encounters of materiality contribute to structuring waste management in the industry. 2.2. Material properties and technologies A starting point in determining what becomes ‘waste’ is the material properties of the substance being considered; at least, this is an argument that often arises in interviews with industry executives and experts. Some materials are seen as easier to recirculate in the steelmaking process, such as those containing ‘significant’ quantities of iron oxide or carbon (coke dust, mill scale etc.). The consistency of materials also plays an important role: coarse solids are easier to handle than very fine powders or sludge and other fluids, which require specific storage, handling and transformation prior to being reintroduced into the process, adding extra cost and process complications. However, the apparently objective ease of dealing with a given material is actually a combination of technical and fundamental knowledge, equipment, legislation, economics and representations and practices around materials in the industry: ‘objective’ (material) properties, as the industry would have it, are a hybrid (Latour, 1991) of materiality, discourses and social construction. Social practices around certain materials are not always stabilised, as can be seen with the recent takeover of the steel company by a global conglomerate based in the developing world: the new owner is intent on reusing BOF slag in the BF at one of the plants, notwithstanding the high levels of phosphorous and other substances, although this was never done before the takeover, and, therefore, BOF slag was seen

Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 181 as ‘waste’. There are also disagreements between the steel company and its contractors over the best practices in terms of briquette use, as well as how the materials that go into briquettes should be dewatered (briquettes are small bricks that can be made with a wide array of materials for use as a feed or coolant in the BOF or BF). This shows that there is uncertainty in terms of the processes adopted to deal with certain materials and consequently there are many variations in such practices from company to company, but also, more surprisingly in light of the monolithic vision of ‘the firm’, from plant to plant in the same company. This, in part, relates to the former history of these sites, which were not all part of the same company before a high profile merger a decade ago. This merger, according to several sources, has not been completely ‘digested’ in terms of corporate cultures and the harmonisation of practices. It is also a reflection of the spirit of competition between these plants because they are organised in various profit centres. While a certain degree of knowledge mutualisation is achieved through company-wide research centres located around the UK, there is the sense that some plants seek an edge over others, and this edge can be gained by novel methods of dealing with materials and, increasingly, ‘wastes’. This situation is replicated inside plants: the BOF plant, the sinter plant, the BF etc. have their own cultural traits and production/financial goals, which can complicate or preclude flows of information as well as matter. Once again, it can be seen that the way materials are dealt with in the firm are a function of networks of actors and practices that do not necessarily connect all the dimensions of steel production. Official, formal research may be mutualised at the company level, but practices will be structured locally, depending, for example, on which contractors operate where or on how instructions from the managerial levels flow down, or even due to cultural traits that elude the socio-spatial and chronological context of the firm. For example, BF operators have a BF culture which embodies hundreds of years of history of the BF as a production process, and traits of such culture will be found in other BF operators throughout the world and in other companies, but maybe not in the environmental officer who works in the office next door to the plant, thereby making understanding and communication between the two difficult. There are clear parallels between flows of matter (including ‘waste’) and flows of technology. Indeed, interviewees often reduced the problem of ‘waste’ to use of the ‘right’ technology. Conversely, it may otherwise be more difficult, although not necessarily impossible, to deal with a given material, and alternative solutions, such as storage and shipping abroad, will come into play. Some of the surplus materials produced in UK steel plants are shipped abroad because there are no treatment facilities for them in the UK. This is the case for lead-containing dusts that are exported to the cement industries in Italy and Germany. However, this is not to say that the technology does not exist or is particularly complex, simply that it is not available in this country, which illustrates the importance of place in structuring the fate of materials. Likewise, an apparently promising technology that can be used to recover values from iron and carbon-bearing materials usually considered to be ‘wastes’ is only in use in a handful of locations, for example, the Midrex Rotary Hearth Furnace process was designed over 20 years ago. Its impressive claims notwithstanding, the process has not spread beyond a few plants, mostly in Japan, China and Korea. Other technologies to re-circulate materials in the production process are in operation in the UK. However, this is not necessarily a guarantee of

Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 182 F. MacKillop optimal material management, for example, with the above mentioned waste oxide briquetting facilities operated by contractors at the steel plants. The use of contractors reveals several aspects. Of course, there is a cost issue since contractors are pitted against each other in order to drive prices down. A high-ranking executive from one of the contracting companies expressed disillusion, saying that he could not provide optimal working conditions due to the constraints imposed by the steel company, hence some cases of injuries and even fatalities had been reported. He also thought that a competing contractor had deliberately quoted unrealistic figures to secure the contract, and for that reason was not carrying out its job properly. Visual inspection of the facilities of that contractor revealed very basic installations and difficult working conditions. Interviews revealed that contractors often expect to make a loss on waste management in order to keep the steel company as their customer for other operations. Recourse to contractors can also be seen as a way for the company to distance itself from ‘waste’ and its connotations, and focus on its core (and more ‘noble’) job of steel manufacturing. Here again, the existence of a given technology, whatever its degree of complexity, is not a guarantee that specific materials will be effectively recovered or reused: value ‘recovery’ is sometimes more of a discourse than a practice, although embodied by physical installations. To understand why, the paper looks at another factor mentioned by interviewees: the regulatory framework. 2.3. Regulation and its ambiguous effects The shifting UK waste legislation is a fundamental element in transforming narratives, and to a certain extent, practices around ‘waste’ management, although not necessarily in the ways intended. There is a regulatory shift from a ‘holes in the ground’ approach, where landfilling was the route of choice, to a sustainability agenda, where resource recovery is paramount. As Davoudi (2000) argues, since the late 1980s there has been a shift in public policy agenda away from total reliance on the disposal of waste to landfill, towards the adoption of a variety of waste management options. This has taken place in the context of rapidly changing institutional relationships which govern waste management in the UK. (p. 167) In other words, it is a clear evolution from one regime of practice (Dean 1999), with its related forms of knowledge (episteme) and technologies and practices (techne) to another. Put slightly differently, it is a shift from a ‘mode of governing’ waste to new ones (Bulkeley et al. 2007). This is an EU-wide evolution, reflected, for example, with the banning of liquids going to landfill, the ban on ‘co-disposal’ of ‘hazardous’ and ‘non-hazardous’ materials and the very definition of ‘hazardous waste’. Indeed, the IPPC (Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control) regime and its definition of hazardous waste is stricter than the former IPC (Integrated Pollution Control), and its reference to ‘special wastes’. The term ‘hazardous’, as well as the material constraints already mentioned, operates a significant semiotic transition with the obvious stigma attached to the word, while the emphasis on prevention is characteristic of the new waste hierarchy, where ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ is the mantra and ‘disposal’ is a last resort. In other words, a traditional disposal mode is giving way to new modes of governing waste, based on ‘diversion, eco-efficiency and waste as resource’ (Bulkeley et al. 2007).

Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 183 These local actions are connected to a wider, indeed global, discourse of ‘selfpolicing’. The ISO 14001 certification of certain steelmakers5 is an example of this, as is the participation of the company in NISP (National Industrial Symbiosis Programme) and several other programmes funded by UK government agencies. As a result, some materials are redefined, moved conceptually and physically from one category to another. This has direct impacts on the costs and complexity of handling them, especially those classified as ‘hazardous waste’. However, this process of reinterpretation is not completely stable. Indeed, evidence shows that new modes of governing waste do not simply replace or displace older ones, but that modes of governing waste coexist (Bulkeley et al. 2007), or in other terms ‘‘the discourse of the waste hierarchy is adopted and operationalised [based on] the interpretation of different stakeholders in different localities, and at different times’’ (Davoudi, 2000, p. 170). The management of surplus materials in the UK steel industry offers another illustration of evolving modes of governing waste and their coexistence. Such is the case with oily mill scale sludge, banned from landfill under new legislation due to its characteristics, which made it officially ‘hazardous’. However, an environmental executive at one steel plant managed to convince the UK Environment Agency (EA) that the material was not hazardous. Thus this is the case of a material that is both ‘hazardous’ and ‘non-hazardous’, in the sense that there are perfectly good material reasons to classify it as either one or the other, but the ultimate decision lies in a socially constructed interpretation of this materiality, which is locally negotiated between actors. Similarly, a plant was given a reprieve for spilling thousands of gallons of oil, a serious offence in the EA nomenclature, due to the sheer volume of existing oil pollution on the site, against the promise that they would soon clean up their act. This shows that the ‘objectivity’ of materiality cannot be made essential, even though it does count. It is an argument among others in the constant process of classification and reclassification of materials and, sometimes, their shunting to the ‘waste’ category. Once again, ‘waste’ appears as a hybrid, a combination of material and social perspectives. This is in stark contrast to the outward aim of recentralisation of environmental policy embodied by the creation of the EA, and its claims of ‘pure’ scientific rationality, which is by definition aspatial: according to other factors this rationality is reinterpreted locally, and waste management remains, in effect, multiscalar, both spatially and chronologically. Actors use concepts and techniques derived from different modes of governing materials in a locally negotiated, contingent manner (Bulkeley et al. 2007). Ultimately, however, interviewees do not single out legislation as the single most important factor. Indeed, as one company executive stated, ‘‘you can always sweettalk your EA inspector, but try doing that with your banker’’: it is possible to win time or even stall with the EA. A more confrontational approach is also an option, as the company can, in the words of a senior executive, ‘‘tell them to **** off . . . they’ll need a warrant’’, implying that this would be difficult, and timeconsuming, for the EA to get. However, the imperatives of (global) capital cannot be put on hold, a trend that is becoming increasingly evident with the recent takeover by an Asian conglomerate. Indeed, this takeover was funded mainly by debt, so the company and its bankers are expecting returns; the new bosses ‘‘do not suffer fools . . . they’ll kick you out if you don’t deliver’’ (according to a senior executive). In other words, the financial bottom line is the defining factor in this industry’s, and arguably others’, approach to materials.

184 Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 2.4. F. MacKillop The international political economy of steel and its ‘wastes’ Economics, both as a discourse and as the concrete financial framework of activity, is the fundamental driver in the way the company manages its materials, either ‘raw materials’, ‘by-products’ or ‘waste’. The latter is becoming a key variable, with potentially important savings to be made in the EAF plant, for example, the goal is to save £1 million on a ‘waste management’ budget of £4 million, leading to new policies and ways of envisioning materials that were unimaginable just a few years ago. Regulatory aspects overlap with (or translate into) financial ones. For example, as part of the shifting regulatory regime, a landfill tax was imposed in the mid-1990s and has been increasing ever since as part of a market-based approach to ‘waste management’ designed to ‘incentivise’ players in the field. It now costs the steel company over £100 per tonne to landfill some materials that could be disposed of for £2 a decade ago and prices are set to rise by 33% in 2009. The shift in government policies shows that authorities cannot adopt a purely authoritarian, top-down approach and discourse, but must comply with a wider, global discourse on ‘economic efficiency’ and ‘modern’ governance. In this sense, government policies, when they take the form of ‘pay as you pollute’ taxes, appear as a simple declension of economic constraints. Thus, the discourse on economics as the driver, even in the context of government policies, has been fully interiorised by industry insiders, and is a non-negotiable boundary. Moreover, this economic dimension of materials processing cannot be understood without taking into account the global economy of the steel industry. Indeed, the price of raw materials has increased dramatically, with scrap, for example, up from £150 per tonne in 2007 to £330 per tonne at present, coking coal up 200% in recent months, energy up 40% since 2007 and expected to rise by 50% by the end of 2008. When these costs are tallied, some ‘wastes’ start to move out of this category, even though they have been in it for years or decades. For example, at the EAF plant, a type of dust was landfilled until very recently, when it was classified as ‘hazardous’. Landfilling was carried out at a cost of over £250,000 per annum. This dust is now re-used in the EAF with no technical problems, yielding savings of over £200,000 per annum Similarly, wet lime used to cost £27,000 a year to landfill and is now used for land treatment, saving the company £16,000 a year. Other examples abound, but the essential conclusion to draw is that materials can, and do, flow out of the ‘waste’ category under the pressure of economics. This exercise in finding the most cost-effective route for materials is a never-ending one, as regulatory and economic conditions are ever-fluctuating. Full-time posts have been created just to re-engineer ‘waste’ management, because it is now cost-effective to do so. This is a fundamental change in the company’s operations. We thus see that the fate of materials in the production of steel is structured by a matrix of factors. Although economics loom large, none of these factors can be neglected in understanding how materials are dealt with. To pursue this exploration of how ‘waste’ is constructed in the UK steel industry today, and to further nuance the role of ‘objective’ factors, there is now a look at what some in the industry call ‘problem wastes’. This is a puzzling term: what makes one material more of a ‘problem’ than another? The term adds a layer of complexity to the already complex story exposed above. However, investigating ‘problem wastes’ can ultimately give us a clearer understanding of how the material and the social interact in this industry, and the dynamic shifting nature of the ‘waste’ hybrid.

Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 185 Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 3. From ‘waste’ to ‘problem wastes’: discourses of material (im)possibility and socioorganisational structuring of materials 3.1. The genesis of ‘problem wastes’ Materials have a history of becoming ‘wastes’, but also of moving upwards or downwards along a gradient of perceived complexity. For example, it is very significant that in an International Iron and Steel Institute study (IISI 1987), the only ‘wastes’ were BF and BOF slags, which are not now seen as particularly difficult to deal with, and actually have many commercial applications that make them valuable materials rather than ‘wastes’. In a later study (IISI 1994), the list of materials was much longer, and much less straightforward to deal with, for example, with the presence of toxic substances. However, this study still contained assertions that are unacceptable today, such as EAF dust being simply spread on fields as a ‘zinc supplement’. This shows how fast the social, political and economic definitions of ‘waste’ evolve, although they do not always necessarily intersect. The study the IISI is currently conducting, due to be published in 2009, takes an even broader perspective as it strives to analyse the production of steel in a life-cycle perspective, i.e. it takes into account all the environmental outcomes of the production and applications of the metal from ‘cradle to grave’. The following selection of materials deemed to be problematic is in no way intended as a catalogue, nor is it a material scientist’s perspective, but a way of understanding how, through a hybridation of material and social factors, a given material may become a ‘problem’. The first ‘problem waste’ examined is blast furnace filter cake (FC). FC results from the cleaning of BF off-gases by waterscrubbing, producing sludge. This sludge contains heavy metals and is very alkaline. Zinc, in particular, can lead to technical problems and excessive energy consumption in the BF. Moreover, alkaline substances can have negative repercussions on metal properties. This stream used to be landfilled, which is now illegal. Therefore, in one of the plants, out of approximately 15,000 tonnes of FC produced every year, 60% is processed internally to reclaim iron and carbon units. The remaining 40% is dewatered on plant by a contractor. Dewatering leaves a solid and a liquid residue, which is left to settle in lagoons on the site, the water then being discharged via the wastewater plant. However, the solid fraction cannot be disposed of to landfill because it is officially classified as ‘hazardous’ due to its heavy metal content; therefore, it is piling up on plant. We thus see that the process of dealing with this substance has become increasingly complex, from simple dumping in holes to separating streams. Therefore, blast furnace filter cake appears as a hybrid of BF by-product material and of various techniques applied to transform this material, as well as the regulatory shift which has forced the application of these techniques to the material. In a way, it is not the same material that used to be landfilled, although in terms of material composition, it is; however, in the former waste management regime this was not a ‘problem’ material. In another plant, blast furnace filter cake is not such an issue, however, BOF filter cake is an issue. Like BF filter cake, it is a result of wet-scrubbing of BOF off-gases, which, in the case of this plant, are high in zinc content due to the use of high-zinc scrap. These materials are being stocked on plant. This stockpiling of both materials is a growing problem, especially at the second plant, where there are historical massive stockpiles due to the absence of landfill availability. Again, the issues of plant location and specifics of production play an important role in

Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 186 F. MacKillop how materials can be managed and whether they can become a ‘problem’. The location of the (much older) first plant on an early iron ore site has helped immensely with ‘voids’ to fill, whereas the coastal location of the other has precluded such approaches; time and place, once again, must be factored in. But, overall, it can be seen that it is the change in the waste management regime that has made these materials become ‘problem wastes’ as they were previously dumped (or piled up on plant), and caused no problems for anyone. The second ‘problem waste’ is oily mill scale sludge from the rolling of steel. Rolling requires the use of oil (to lubricate) and water (as a coolant); the two combine to form a sludge that also contains scale from the oxidation of steel. Most of this scale is not contaminated with oil, but a significant percentage of this material is. This means that it cannot be reintroduced, for various technical reasons, into the steelmaking cycle. This oily sludge is officially ‘hazardous’, but at one plant executives managed to convince the EA to rescind this decision by assuaging concerns over the presence of certain pollutants. The sludge is thus being dewatered and the solid percentage is landfilled, at least at the first plant. At the second one, it is much more of a concern due to heavy oil use on the rolling mills and legacy ‘ponds’ of the material. At this plant, quantities and qualities of oily wastes have mostly been unknown for decades, illustrating a lack of concern or rather the de facto invisibility of the substance. A third material presented as a ‘problem’ is lead-containing dust. Leadcontaining steel is used by the automobile industry for its machineability. A great deal of the lead is lost in the process as one-third passes into the fumes emitted during production. These fumes, when filtered, yield high-lead dust (60–70% lead content, 20% of the dust) and low-lead dust (around 10% lead content, 80% of the dust). Approximately 200 tonnes of this dust are produced in the plant that was studied. The dust is difficult to deal with because it is highly toxic and very dry and will not readily dissolve to form sludge when treated with water; instead, it forms small balls that can explode at any time and release the hazardous dust. The low-lead dust used to be landfilled on site but this is now prohibited, and UK hazardous wastes landfill sites are ‘too expensive’. The high-lead dust used to be sent to now defunct UK-based smelters. It is now being shipped to the Far East, according to a company executive who refused to give further details. The final material is EAF dust, approximately 15,000 tonnes of which are produced every year at the EAF plant. Once again, the problem with this dust is its zinc content. Until 2005 it could be landfilled, but the practice was then banned. Attempts to use this dust in the briquetting plant after concentration have proven to be uneconomical (which means that there actually is not enough to make concentrating it worthwhile, but still too much to hinder the production process), so the dust is shipped abroad, originally to Germany and now to Sardinia for zinc recovery. Thus, it is clear that materials classified as problematical today were not always perceived as such. They were most often landfilled or left to accumulate on plant without a second thought, although their physico-chemical properties – the very ones that make them hazardous and a source of agitation today – were, quite obviously, exactly the same. This ambivalence is illustrated by the fact that some of these materials can still be reclassified as ‘non-hazardous’, showing the importance of locally negotiated social constructions: the governmentality of ‘waste’ is not stabilised as ways of envisioning and handling such materials shift, mirroring the

Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 187 shift from one management regime to another. Therefore, the same materials move to the category of ‘problem wastes’ due to different hybridations of materials, practices and regulations in different time periods and different spaces. Therefore, approaches to these materials show a combination of several regimes of practices. Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 3.2. Stockpiles and legacies Many wastes are stored awaiting some recycling process, a bit like cryogenic storing of bodies awaiting a cure. Many tonnes of newly categorised products are stored on sites awaiting a disposal route, now that landfill has been curtailed. (Interview of waste management contractor, November 2007) This quote from one of the steel company’s contractors reveals that one of the main ways of dealing with the changing ‘waste’ management regime is to stockpile the ‘problem’ materials. The fact that they are referred to as ‘newly categorised products’ shows that until recently they were not part of the episteme of ‘waste’ governmentality in the industry. The interesting metaphor of ‘bodies awaiting a cure’ emphasises the uncertainty and even unease on the part of the industry with regard to how to handle these materials; until then, they remain in limbo. Moreover, it shows that stockpiling, if it is to be considered differently from landfilling, must be accompanied by a narrative of future re-use or some type of ‘solution’ – a teleology – to the materials in question, as in the case of ‘cryogenised’ bodies. The fate of these bodies is, for all intents and purposes, fundamentally uncertain, but is given a meaning by the outwardly ‘scientific’ discourse and practices (labelling, measuring etc.) surrounding them. However, stockpiling is not without problems either, because it is costly in terms of both money and space. Indeed, the Minosus salt mine, operated by Veolia, is an expensive option, more expensive than landfilling used to be. Stockpiling at the plant poses increasingly difficult logistical problems. In the case of sludges, for example, there is the risk that lagoons may overflow and lead to discharges in nearby waterways, which would cause the authorities to order the immediate shutdown of production. At one of the plants, some lagoons are indeed dangerously close to overflowing or failing. Moreover, there is a fine legal line between stockpiling and de facto landfilling: if wastes are kept more than three years on site they are considered a landfill, for which the company has no licence. Several types of materials are currently stockpiled on plant, such as lead-containing waste, dewatered sludges, sometimes in dramatic proportions, structuring the physical aspect of the plants. Indeed, the latter are literally landscapes of waste, as layers of mixed materials (industrial, general etc.) dot the plant. These ‘mountains’ echo ‘ponds’ of oil that are often more like lakes, as their names can imply (‘million gallon tank’ at one of the plants). This is material that has escaped from the production process and now constitutes its physical backdrop but is not seen as ‘waste’, and, indeed, is not seen at all. Until now it has escaped any categorisation, although as will be seen, some changes are taking place. Thus, stockpiling, in effect, has two faces: an explicit, governed form and an implicit ungoverned one. Official volumes of stockpiling are thus an extremely conservative estimate of the quantities of material actually being stockpiled, many of which will become an issue when plants cease to operate and lands need to be remediated.

188 Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 3.3. F. MacKillop Reprocessing or ‘window dressing’? Discourse as practice In order to reduce the amount of materials threatening to choke production by the sheer space they require as well as by the dangers they represent, the company is ‘reprocessing’ some of them and thus apparently recovering ‘values’. These materials are said to be potentially damaging, but this assertion must be nuanced. For example, zinc is a problem in the blast furnace, but not in the BOF where it is vaporised. Similarly, oily mill scale sludge, presented as a problem in the sinter plant, can, under certain conditions, be burnt in blast furnaces without too many issues. However, this does not mean that these alternative routes are actually explored. The first case is oily mill scale sludge, the oil embedded in the iron oxide precludes reuse, for reasons detailed above. Therefore, the challenge is to remove the former. Various attempts have taken place, such as bioremediation (using bacteria to decompose the oil), but to no avail. At one point, £3 million was sunk into an ‘ultrasonics’ remediation plant by the company, which did not yield satisfactory results. However, oily sludge can be burnt in blast furnaces, thus providing an alternative fuel to expensive coal and coke. In most instances though, the company prefers to use sump oil imported from Russia simply because it is cheaper. One of the plants even burns oily sludge from another plant in the group, whilst arguing that its own sludge is too problematical, although it is of very similar composition. Blast furnace filter cake, as an apparently ‘simpler’ material, seems to offer more opportunities. Indeed, it is carbon and iron-rich and does not have a problematical consistency. Therefore, it is possible to put it into briquettes that can be used in the BOF plant. Nevertheless, evidence shows that the path from the briquetting plant to the effective reuse of materials is far from straightforward: the steel company was not using the briquettes, which have a greater cooling effect in the BF than scrap, so the briquettes were being ‘stored’. This can be seen as stockpiling, or, in the words of a contractor, ‘window dressing’. The briquetting plant lends an air of material ‘recycling’ when all that is happening is transformation into another type of ‘waste’, disguised as a raw material. The examples above show that the argument of material ‘impossibility’ can mask issues of organisational convenience or downright conservatism in terms of process routes. It can also be seen that ‘recycling’ can be just another form of stockpiling, and ultimately disposal when recyclates end up not being used in the process, as briquettes have a limited lifetime and must eventually be disposed of. Thus, in some cases material reprocessing appears to be a rhetorical device. Although some physical changes do take place, they ultimately do not change the fate of the material, which is ‘wasted’, although it has, from a formal point of view, been turned into value. The same applies to stockpiled materials, especially when there is little realistic prospect that they will be put to use. Keeping to what is known, even if it requires losing the values contained in ‘waste’, takes precedence, unless other routes can be found to get rid of inconvenient materials. 3.4. Exporting ‘waste’ For some materials, the most convenient solution for the company is export. The reasons for this are cost as well as the absence of appropriate facilities in the UK. Ultimately, this illustrates the spatial variability of the notion of ‘waste’, as one person’s refuse is another’s gold mine.

Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 189 The first example is EAF dust. The EAF dust is shipped to Italy at a cost of over £1 million per annum, which is a quarter of what the plant spends on ‘waste’ materials every year. Thus, it is extremely costly to deal with it relative to its volume, which is far from a quarter of all the materials the plant discards. Only 20% of this dust is actually zinc, so ‘‘you get 80% of stuff that’s probably landfilled’’, although in Italy, not in the UK. There is an international division of labour around these ‘waste’ materials, with companies such as ZincOx, for example, specialising in the production of ‘low-cost zinc’ solely from EAF dust, as indicated on their website. Likewise, zinc initially present on galvanised steel scrap in the UK (and deemed a ‘problem’ for recycling) ultimately finds its way to fence posts in the African plains through various companies. Clearly, these ‘problem’ materials, with the same ‘objective’ material composition, are not a problem at all for many actors around the steel industry – they are the very condition of their existence. The flow of materials is thus maintained as different applications are found for them in different geographies. The decoupling of use and exchange values of these materials in the UK means that they must flow in the global commodity space to be reconciled. Stockpiling, reprocessing and exporting, while possible alternatives to landfill, all appear to have their downsides for people in the industry, the main issue, predictably, is that of cost. Some executives described the transition to the new regime as ‘extremely painful’ or ‘traumatic’. They emphasised the apparent absurdity of some EA decisions, which mean that EAF-dust must be shipped to Italy or that inert materials which used to be sold as low-grade road surface material must now be landfilled due to being reclassified as ‘waste’. Moreover, there is recognition that values are being lost for the industry, while at the same time there is consternation at the rising price of raw materials and energy. Some in the industry recognise that they are basically giving away materials to other companies. There is thus an impetus to more actively recover values from ‘wastes’. The paper analyses how this impetus is framed, ultimately structured by the above-mentioned forces of economics and legislation, as well as its ambiguities and inconsistencies and ultimately lack of effect. 3.5. The search for the high-tech fix First and foremost, the desire to extract more value from materials takes the shape of high tech dreams, whereby ‘waste’ would be transmuted into a resource: in the words of a company waste management expert, ‘‘we will start digging up old sludge pits and use the stuff as raw materials’’, to relieve the company from the pressure of the international market for raw materials. However, as another illustration of an uncertain governmentality of ‘waste’, no firm decisions over which technology to use and where to site it in the country have been taken. The high capital outlay and operating costs, and sometimes dubious credentials of such applications, play a part in this indecision. However, intra-firm politics as well as disagreements between engineers or material scientists and the firm’s management also loom large. Once more, the fate of materials reflects organisational and social issues inside the firm. First, there is a look at Midrex as a prominent illustration of ‘Rotary Hearth Furnace’ technologies. Midrex claims that the process can turn some of the more intractable materials of the industry from a pile of liabilities into a gold mine. Midrex comes with a hefty price tag and there are questions over the costeffectiveness of the approach as the process is energy intensive. This was also the

190 F. MacKillop Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 case with the ‘ultrasonics’ process that was used in trials on oily waste at one of the plants, but was rapidly mothballed due to its energy consumption. Proposed avenues, such as ‘thermal desorption’ and plasma arc technology also present similar constraints. From a broader perspective, these technologies, while emphasising by their very existence that there is no material impossibility as such, reveal an obsession with ‘high tech’ fixes on the part of many executives and engineers. This echoes Latour’s point about the modern separation of science from society, whereby the former’s statuses and its impact are seriously exaggerated: ‘‘we need not add absolute transcendence and rationality to scientific truth and technical efficiency’’ (Latour 1991, p. 171, my translation). Furthermore: the Moderns invented a totalised system as well as total revolution to put an end to it, complemented by total, demoralising failure . . . building on fragile, heterogeneous networks formed by collectives, they elaborated homogeneous totalities which could not be touched without totally revolutionising them. (Latour 1991, p. 172, my translation) From this perspective, waste and the complexity of dealing with it is as much a material reality as a social and even linguistic construct; therefore, the difficulty of dealing with it is also down to how it is framed, and how solutions to it are envisioned as necessarily grand solutions. Thus, material, social and linguistic aspects of waste are reflected in its governance. There is the widespread belief that the only way of really dealing with issues is by throwing money at them, and that there are no simple solutions to simple problems, but complex solutions to intractable issues. This is part of the episteme of ‘waste’ management in the steel industry, a basic assumption that is also prominent in other industries, and finds a striking illustration, for example, with the rapid development of incineration as a ‘solution’ to municipal waste. Transmutation remains a powerful ideal of industry, teleology, characteristic of any system of government (Dean 1999). However, after exposing these assumptions and their consequences, the paper now examines counter-narratives surrounding materials and their handling in the industry as part of putting ‘problem’ materials in perspective, further illustrating the fact that ‘waste’ is a hybrid of material and social perspectives. Indeed, the further one moves from the core of the industry to its margins (contractors and temporary workers), the more nuances or even contradictions to the standard discourse on materials. 4. Putting ‘problem wastes’ in perspective: counter-narratives and ‘normal waste’ This final part of the paper further deconstructs the notion of ‘problem wastes’ by discussing counter-narratives. Ultimately, the symbolic and physical importance of these materials is replaced in the context of other flows of surplus materials. 4.1. Dealing with ‘problem wastes’ . . . unproblematically These counter-narratives revolve mainly around changes in the organisation of the production process rather than the injection of high tech capital. In other words, there are readily available ways of dealing with materials, which put an emphasis on praxis more than on technology. This is where the issue of corporate culture, writ large, plays a role in the ways materials are envisioned and dealt with.

Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 191 There are many examples of the possibility of dealing with some of the aforementioned materials with ‘off-the-shelf’ methods as opposed to high tech. The paper has already mentioned briquetting, which is a tried and tested economical approach. Much of the reluctance in using the briquettes is down to the BOF plant manager not wanting anyone to interfere with their part of the production process: according to a process manager, ‘‘the last thing the guy wants is being called at 2am for someone to tell him that there’s a problem with the steel quality’’, although the threats to quality arising from the composition of briquettes are marginal. Indeed, the steel production process is quite flexible, especially in the case of EAFs. As one manager said: ‘‘we put all sorts of things into the furnaces . . . we often find bits of unmelted iron slabs floating in there . . . the furnaces are flexible’’. But the fact remains that BOF plant managers need to be ‘bullied’ to use briquettes. There are many such examples of reluctance that emphasise how each part of the production process (BF, BOF, sinter plant, etc.) tends to have its own objectives of ‘total quality’ and fears of contaminating its own process; this has more to do with established routines and values than with any real material risk. This obsession with the utmost quality, even when not required by the market,6 also explains the lack of prevention versus end of pipe approaches to materials. Often ‘problem wastes’ result from the way production is envisaged and the reliance on familiar practices even when they appear inherently wasteful from a material point of view. Such is the case with rolling, where open-gear lubrication systems are widespread, resulting in losses and important volumes of oily mill scale sludge being generated: in the words of an industry consultant, ‘‘if the operator of the rolling mill feels he needs to dump oil to reach his steel quality objectives, he will’’. Similarly, if zinc is such an issue in terms of recirculating materials, why keep putting so much on the steel in the first place? There are indications that galvanising in the UK could be made to use less zinc via thinner coatings whilst maintaining the same properties. However, given the investments that would be required to upgrade galvanising and rolling mills, it is cheaper and more convenient for the company not to make changes. Thus, it can be seen that prevention could be a viable approach, but that end-ofpipe mentalities still rule and sometimes even appear to be the cause, together with the issue of relative costs of ‘problem wastes’. Corporate culture issues, embedded practices, loom large here, just as they do in the case of materials that appear to have been totally overlooked in the industry: ‘general waste’. 4.2. Is ‘general waste’ a problem? The next step in putting ‘problem wastes’ in perspective is by contrasting them with another category, not described as ‘problematical’, but that could actually pose more legal and economic problems: ‘general waste’ and ‘works debris’. Following Latour (1991) once again, the focus is on the ordinary rather than the extraordinary, the more mundane, but in no way less important, materials. These materials, an often indiscriminate jumble of metals, plastics, wood, lime etc. and sometimes hazardous substances, dot the plant landscape or even form its substrate as they accumulate over many years, and even centuries in the case of one of the plants. Observations at all the plants revealed this quantitative importance of general waste: the plant is, in a way, an accumulation of discarded materials before being itself discarded at the end of its useful life. Thus, ‘problem wastes’ may appear to be the tip of the iceberg, at least quantitatively speaking.

Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 192 F. MacKillop This ‘general waste’ tends to be indiscriminately discarded: it is this practice, rather than its mundane materiality, that gives ‘general waste’ its name. In the case of debris arising from works, such as casting ‘accidents’ or other mixes of materials containing valuable metallic elements, efforts are made to recover values. However, this is not always the case. Such practices around ‘general waste’ are clearly a loss of potentially re-usable or recyclable materials, such as wooden pallets that could be reused and plastics that could be recycled. Some evolutions are taking place around the governance of these materials, but only one plant out of three visited seemed to commit to modifying such practices by a recently initiated workers’ education programme. The importance of practices and knowledge in shaping the fate of materials, as well as an ingrained tendency towards organisational rigidity, loom large. For example, notwithstanding various signs and clearly separated skips, workers tend to dump ‘general waste’ in any available skip; sometimes, hazardous substances, such as lime, which can react with water and cause fires, are dumped together with plastic, wood etc. making recycling very difficult or impossible, and entailing additional, avoidable costs ‘‘every time the fire brigade are called in (over these waste fires), we have to shell out £4000’’, said an executive. Pallets are another concern, because in contrast to practices in Europe the company does not require its suppliers to use standard Euro-pallets, which are readily re-usable or recyclable; instead, widely differing types are present, and they often end up abandoned on site, sometimes smashed and therefore impossible to reuse. In one plant, the accumulation of abandoned pallets led to a serious fire, which highlights the very real threats associated with the innocuous-sounding ‘general waste’. In yet another case, materials are routinely dumped by workers from the top of the BOF plant onto the shop floor, causing an assemblage of plastic, wood, slag etc. to form. In total, 80,000 tonnes a year of mixed materials are thus produced, which prove to be very complex and expensive to dispose of. Instead of engaging in an educational effort to get workers to modify their practices and therefore avoid the problem of dealing with this complex assemblage, the company pays one of its contractors to sort out these materials through a specific process. The responses to ‘general waste’ are very revealing. Except in one case, where a specific post has been created to optimise the management of these materials and educational efforts are being carried out, the plants are reacting in apparently inconsistent, sometimes incoherent ways. Analysis shows that responses are structured by elements of corporate culture; in other words, there is a deeply embedded episteme of ‘waste’ management, which in turns determines the techne (Dean 1999). The company chooses to work around established practices, engineering, expensive and time-consuming end-of-pipe ‘solutions’ instead of prevention. Sorting would be more efficient from a material and financial point of view, as some materials could be sold or reused. Thus, ‘general waste’ is as much a ‘problem’ as ‘problem wastes’ as it reveals the same underlying representations and practices, which can contribute to transforming potential values into ‘waste’. 5. Conclusion: a very limited shift towards a new waste management regime The case of the UK steel industry illustrates ‘waste’ as a social construct. There is no such thing as a material that is inherently ‘waste’, i.e. which inherently must be discarded or is utterly worthless, as the spatial and chronological variability of what is considered ‘waste’ shows. However, from a technical point of view, the fact that a

Downloaded by [University of Southern Queensland] at 16:49 04 March 2013 Journal of Environmental Planning and Management 193 material may be potentially recoverable or reusable in production does not mean that this will necessarily happen. Sheer material characteristics are not the only determining factor as ‘waste’ is a hybrid. Other factors are crucial in structuring the way materials are dealt with. These factors are an evolving ‘waste’ management regime and the ever-shifting constraints of the global economics of steel. However, these obvious factors are not the only ones, as it becomes evident that corporate and industry cultures, in a broad sense, including representations and attitudes to materials in the workforce, also play a very important role. The existence of materials labelled as ‘problem wastes’ further illustrates these mechanisms of the construction of ‘waste’. Indeed, ‘problem wastes’ are just the tip of the iceberg as they do not necessarily have the biggest volumes, and detract from the unquestioned piling up of various other, less sensational materials, which all become part of the steelmaking landscape and its eventual social/material legacy. However, the focus is more on the extraordinary than on the day-to-day constitution of the ‘waste’ category in general. The steel industry remains very much in the ‘holes in the ground’, industry-specific waste management regime, with an end-of-pipe episteme and a techne focused on (preferably high tech) remediation as opposed to prevention and simpler modifications of working procedures. Indeed, if there are a few signs of a shift towards a ‘waste as resource’ regime, they are limited and essentially driven by economic concerns and regulatory threats (which often coincide in the context of a neo-liberalisation of environmental policies), not a new ethos of

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