Exports of recycled commodities from the United States to EU countries has increased markedly both in quality and value this year. In the first nine months of 2021, according to the latest official data, the US exported materials worth US$ 3.8 billion (EUR 3.4 billion), 47% higher year-on-year. It has already recorded the biggest total sales for any full year.
The numbers from the Census Bureau and the US International Trade Commission have been crunched by the Institute of Scrap Recycling industries in its regular market report. In terms of quantity, US recycled commodity exports to the EU were also up 47% so far this year to 973 000 tonnes. ISRI says that, at this pace, exports to the EU should break the previous tonnage record of 2008 which 1.16 million tonnes.
Exports of recycled ferrous to the EU is the largest component at more than 450 000 tonnes, an increase of 79% compared to the first nine months of 2020. US exports of recovered paper and fibre are the second largest recycled commodity (382 000 tonnes), followed by copper (85 000 tonnes), aluminium (18 000 tonnes) and plastic (15 000 tonnes).
The top three export destinations for this material by value are Germany (US$ 1.9 billion), Italy (US$ 972 million) and Belgium (US$ 403 million). Following Brexit, the United Kingdom is not included in this specific trade data although other figures indicate the US exported US$ 4 billion of recycled commodities to the UK. This includes a large share of highly-valued recycled precious metals.
US imports of recycled commodities from the EU (year-to-date) are also up significantly this year – 45% higher by volume through September to 588 000 tonnes and 26% higher in dollar terms to US$ 1.2 billion. ISRI says the lower percentage reflects a larger share of relatively lower priced recycled commodity imports this year.
Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy are the top three EU suppliers, followed by Spain, Sweden, Poland, France, and Belgium. Again, although the UK is not included in the data, it would be at the top of the list at US$ 988 million of US imports.
As a share of total recycled commodities imports from the EU, recycled iron and steel imports represent 88% of US imports during the first nine months of 2021 at 515 000 tonnes, up from 83% on the same period in 2020. A significant volume of recycled plastic was exported from the EU (more than 45 000 tonnes in 2020), particularly from Italy and Germany.
The US accounts for a significant share of EU recycled commodity exports. According to UN Comtrade data, the EU exported US$ 12.8 billion of all recycled commodities in 2020, of which the US imported US$ 1.27 billion.
IRSI concern at waste regs
Meanwhile, ISRI has applauded the European Commission’s intentions behind its draft revisions to the EU Waste Shipment Regulations but expressed reservations.
On the one hand, it is relieved that the proposed regulation will not be imposing trade restrictions on recycled commodities between the United States and Europe. But it says the regulation fails to provide adequate, clear, and concise definitions and distinctions between valueless discarded waste and specification-grade recyclable commodities that are in high demand around the world.
‘Imposing burdensome procedures on exporters to judge another country’s policies and recycling infrastructure or worse, banning trade of recyclable commodities – especially when no such comparable regulations are being imposed on carbon-intensive, primary raw materials extracted from the earth – will lead only to greater stress on the environment from mining and manufacturers being challenged to meet sustainability goals,’ it argues.
‘The regulation will thus create competitive disadvantages for recycling in many parts of the world, including in Europe, potentially leading to less recycling and falling short of sustainable development goals, the circular economy, and the Green New Deal.’
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