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Recycling a ‘resilient industry’

President Tom Bird kicked off BIR’s 145th convention and exhibition by saying the previous year had been a ‘rollercoaster ride’ for the industry.

‘We would not have believed a year ago that one year on we would be in a lockdown scenario,’ he told the online gathering. ‘It has changed lives almost beyond recognition.’ Bird was proud that recycling was a resilient industry with no better example than how it had coped in 2020. ‘Demand picked up and prices started to improve as economies started to open up. Markets have remained strong in 2021 and businesses are reporting they have more than recovered.’

While the growing emphasis on protecting the environment ‘bodes extremely well for the recycling industry’, Bird said the issue of free trade, particularly proposed regulations around the export of scrap from EU continued to be of concern. In a later discussion he labelled it ‘backdoor protectionism’.

Looking ahead, he said the widespread use of vaccines was an optimistic sign. He expected demand for scrap to continue to improve and was especially encouraged by strong growth forecasts for China.

Regulatory angles

Also on the opening day, the International Environment Committee heard from representatives of Euric and Eurofer on issues around the proposed Green Deal from the European Commission. Euric’s senior policy officer Julia Blees summarised the key areas which include targets for recycled content in new products; developing domestic markets for secondary raw materials; product design policy and changes to waste shipment procedures.

Aurelio Braconi, Eurofer’s expert on the circular economy, set out how policies on pollution, greenhouse gases, finance and the circular economy could affect a European industry that manufactures 160m tonnes of steel annually and employs 330 000 people. European steel producers were at the forefront of making quality products, he argued, but policy makers had to realise that the recycling value chain stretched much further than Europe and there was a danger any legislation would not be applied equally in a global context.

BIR’s trade and environment director Ross Bartley reported on an initiative to improve the management of plastic waste from the Basel Convention’s Plastic Waste Partnership which had been set up in March 2020. More than 50 pilots are being established around the world and will focus on environmentally sound waste management, prevention and minimisation of the generation of plastic waste and control of transboundary movements.

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