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Global scrap markets wakening after lockdown

Photo: Martijn Reintjes

The latest review from the Bureau of International Recycling on the impact of Covid-19 on recycling around the world reports that industry has returned to normal in China. Even so, concerns now focus on the implementation of its impending recycled materials’ qualification system for copper, brass and cast aluminium alloys.

BIR say full details have yet to be officially announced by the Chinese authorities but several major shipping lines have confirmed in advance that they will no longer accept bookings for ‘scrap’. ‘Companies exporting metal scrap to China must comply with all the current procedures until the rules are changed, including being registered with AQSIQ and submitting to pre-shipment inspections,’ the review notes.

Indian issues

In many countries, the ferrous scrap industry is seeing very little impact from the virus, although the market in India is uncertain with the country having just set a record for the world’s highest single-day increase in coronavirus cases. Feedback from the e-scrap sector also suggests that business for most operators has returned almost to normal.
‘However, economic recovery in general will continue to be significantly influenced by the pandemic and, even in those countries to have passed the peak of infections, by concerns over a second wave,’ says BIR.

Other markets

In Germany, which boasts Europe’s biggest economy, there has been an increase in reported cases since mid-July, partly as a result of more travel during the holiday period and also lower levels of discipline.
In Mexico, where Covid-19 cases are on the increase, industries are being allowed to continue to operate and private enterprises are adopting as many safety measures as each can devise and afford. Non-ferrous metal scrap generation is said to be gradually improving but not quite matching the pace of demand.
BIR reports that many market indicators show a stable increase in activity levels among leading industries but a second wave would limit further growth expectations.

Textiles: ‘improving but uncertain’

Among the non-metal commodities covered by BIR, markets for used textiles have been slowly improving. The volumes currently being collected can be placed but prices are still around a third below pre-pandemic levels. ‘There is still plenty of uncertainty in the market and demand is not sufficient to reduce inventories built up during the periods of lockdown; indeed, stock levels are estimated to be around three times higher than normal for this time of year.’ The outlook for the coming months is said to be highly uncertain.

Low plastic prices

Uncertainty also dominates the global plastics sector, although feedback from Europe suggests an improving market and rising demand for recycled materials. Prices remain at a low level despite increases in the value of oil and of prime material. ‘The last few months have also brought a slight improvement in the Far East but conditions are becoming more challenging for the scrap plastic industry because pricing is not matching customers’ target prices.’
A challenge for the sector is that shipping lines are not accepting scrap plastics for Hong Kong owing to the ban on solid waste imports.
There is growing demand in China for used tyres and rubber but the European market is less active, with prices still at lower levels despite the increase for oil and for virgin resin counterparts. Securing enough end-of-life tyres in Europe to meet the growing Asian demand for crumb rubber is a challenge, particularly because of lower collection volumes in most countries of much fewer cars and trucks on the road.

Strong paper demand

Across much of Europe, paper and board collection levels have been low because of summer holidays but ‘reasonably good business conditions’ have been created by strong demand from mills. High levels of demand have been seen from Indonesia, India, Thailand, Vietnam and China. European mills, conversely, have seen lower orders owing to the holidays. They also continued to produce during lockdown so have had to sell their stocks.

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