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US recycled exports beat decade-long record income

Exports of recycled commodities from the US soared more than 50% in 2021 compared the Covid-ravaged output of 2020 – achieving the highest earnings for a decade.

According to the latest data from the Census Bureau and the US International Trade Commission, reported by ISRI, the value of recycled materials exported in 2021 was US$ 31.3 billion (EUR 27.6 million) up 51.3% year-on-year.

In terms of quantity, recycled commodity exports increased less significantly but were up 9% year-on-year in 2021 to 38.5 million tonnes, with the top 10 exporting markets being Mexico, India, Turkey, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, Canada, South Korea, and Bangladesh. China, for many years the principal destination, was 11th because of the sharp contraction in recovered paper and fibre shipments.

Mexico was also the largest growth market, up from 1.97 million tonnes in 2020 to nearly 5.7 million tonnes last year.


Exports of recycled iron and steel (excluding stainless and alloy steel) increased 5% year-on-year by quantity in 2021 to nearly 16.7 million tonnes but increased 60% in dollar terms to US$ 6.8 billion. The increase was achieved despite fewer shipments to Turkey, which declined by 15% to less than 3.5 million tonnes last year.

Shipments of recycled iron and steel shipments to Latin America rose more than 50% in 2021 thanks to improved demand from Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil. At the same time, recycled iron and steel shipments to mainland China more than tripled to 115 000 tonnes.


Exports of recycled base metals, including copper, aluminium, nickel, lead, zinc and tin in 2021 increased 15% by quantity to 3.1 million tonnes and were up 66% in dollar terms to  US$ 8.7 billion last year.

Recycled copper and Cu alloy exports rose 68% in dollar terms last year to nearly US$ 4.5 billion while recycled aluminium rose 69% to US$ 3.8 billion. The value of recycled zinc, lead, and nickel shipments were each between US$ 65-70 million.

China regained the top spot as the largest destination for copper and copper alloy exports from the US last year as shipments more than doubled to 240 000 tonnes. Other major markets for US exports were Malaysia (142 000 tonnes), Canada (115 000 tonnes), S. Korea (64 000 tonnes) and India (52 000 tonnes.

Total recycled copper and copper alloy exports from the US increased 18% to 918 485 tonnes.

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