SEATTLE — Tower cranes seem to be a permanent part of the skyline in Seattle these days.
Much of the material to build new skyscrapers are imported from overseas but a lot of the bones of new buildings come from a local steel mill that transforms our waste into something new.
You have probably driven by it but what many may not know is that a plant nestled in urban West Seattle is owned by the Nucor Corp., the largest producer of steel in the United States.
But before all the new apartments and construction dotted the skyline, Nucor Steel was here first.
“The mill has been here since 1905, the neighborhood has grown up around it,” Environmental Manager Patrick Jablonski said.
Some who live nearby may now question the environmental impacts of all the smoke coming from the mill but Nucor says there is more to them than meets the eye.
“We are the largest recycler in the state,” Jablonski said.
During a rare tour, Q13 News saw where it all starts.
There is a giant graveyard of scrap -- everything from cars to appliances end up there.
There is a recipe to making steel.
A worker high above operating a crane methodically picks out certain scrap pieces to make steel.
“About 90% of what we make here is rebar, which is concrete reinforcement,” Jablonski said.
In other words, it’s the bones or support of a structure.
And the material is in high demand in a region seeing massive development.
Jablonski says Nucor’s steel isn’t just going into skyscrapers or even Amazon’s biosphere -- it’s also being used to build the 2-mile tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
“As we are demolishing the viaduct, the scraps are coming back here and we are recycling,” Jablonski said.
It’s what’s known as a closed loop system -- taking some of the demolished material from the viaduct to the steel mill, where the scraps are recycled back to itself. Then the brand new steel is used to reinforce the tunnel.
“The environmental footprint is smaller than basically making things overseas,” Jablonski said.
Cities like Kirkland say they look at the closed loop system as an ethical obligation.
“Emissions, climate change, all that kind of stuff doesn’t end at a city boundary,” City Planner David Barnes said.
Nucor’s rebar is going into building Kirkland Urban, a retail center near downtown Kirkland.
“Kirkland has one of the highest recycling rates for residential in the county,” Barnes said.
Barnes says the goal is to keep waste away from landfills and reusing what we already have.
Nucor says they produce more than a million tons of steel every year. That’s enough to help build 30 tunnels.
So the next time you are sitting in traffic looking at a skyline full of construction cranes, there is a good chance the West Seattle steel mill is fueling the region’s expansion.