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Welcome to 2022 – let’s recap 2021!

The new year is upon us. The team of Recycling International hopes you had happy holidays and wishes you all the best for 2022. It’s a good opportunity to look back on the past year and its many milestones and challenges.

First and foremost we’re glad to report that tradeshows and live conferences have started up again in most parts of the world. The first Pollutec, Ecomondo, Fakuma and BIR gathering are a fact in this post-covid world. We hope to see you at ISRI in Las Vegas and IFAT in Munich in the next few months – the events are said to be back ‘bigger than ever’.

There are clear signs that the industry is getting back on its feet. The London Metal Exchange Trading Ring reopened on 6 September after an enforced break of 18 months caused by the pandemic. Tata Steel has commissioned a new recycling plant in India to process 500 000 tonnes of scrap per year for use in the steel-making industry.

Another positive development is that the scrap markets witnessed ‘sustained strong demand’ for materials from rejuvenated economies during the last few months, according to BIR’s ferrous specialist Greg Schnitzer. Although market analysts noted that buoyant markets in Europe and the US were being held back by a shortage of containers in the first half of the year.

The global scrap metal recycling market is expected to reach a three digit milestone of US$ 105 billion (EUR 93 billion) by 2028. Higher quality standards in India and Malaysia may realise ‘a paradigm shift’ in secondary metal production in the region in the next five to seven years. Not least, Novelis is expanding its research programme into boosting the performance of batteries for electric vehicles using more recycled aluminium.

Regarding platinum group metals (PGMs), Elemental Holding Group acquired Maryland Core, one of the market leaders in the US, for US$ 11 million (EUR 9.3 million). As for rare earth metals, there are no signs that China will restrict its rare earth exports as they are being undersold because of ‘vicious competition’ on the domestic market.

The Indian authorities have introduced a set of measures, including a National Authority for Recycling of Ships (NARS) to expand the Alang shipbreaking yard, ensure compliance with regulations, and ramp up the generation of domestic ferrous scrap. The controversial yard processed 415 ships in 2011-12, which was down to 202 ships in 2019-20.

Oil prices were high throughout the year, with a peak in September and October (around US$ 81 / EUR 71 per barrel), notably impacting the scrap plastics market. The average price of crude oil is estimated to be around US$ 62 / EUR 54 per barrel in 2022. The plastics recycling sector is thought to be closing in on a value of US$ 50 billion (EUR 41 billion), industry experts argue it is unrealistic to assume scrap can ever fully meet worldwide demand.

Recyclers in South Africa have made it known that the sector is facing a critical shortage of recovered paper, especially cardboard. Prices in this segment are said to be ‘firm’ in the US and Europe. A market survey by The Paper Stock Report indicated an average national mill buying price of US$ 194 per ton in August – up from US$ 153 in July and US$ 93 in August 2020. Moving into the fourth quarter, they were generally paying above US$ 200 per tonne for OCC in most regions of the US and buyers were not anticipating any relief before the end of the year.

Textile recyclers have reported that container availability and rising wage costs may impact on recyclers well into 2022. The Kenyan reuse market for second-hand clothing is said to be ‘an example to the world’. The nation imports around 185 000 tonnes of secondhand clothing per year, equivalent to an approximate 8 000 containers. Innovation for textiles appears to be just around the corner, with Ambercycle developing an ‘elegant solution’ for synthetic fibres. The start-up aims to build a demonstration plant that will produce a tonne of material per day, which represents roughly 15 000 pieces of clothing.

Battery recycling is still gaining momentum as e-mobility and resource scarcity concerns are top of mind. The global lithium-ion battery recycling market is expected to process 12 million tonnes of end-of-life batteries by 2042. The revised Battery Directive will come into force this year. Industry stakeholders are eager to see how this will impact their day-to-day operations. ‘Some people think that expanding deposit schemes is the golden ticket to increased collection and recycling: I don’t think it’s that simple,’ declares Hans Craen, secretary general of the European Portable Battery Association.

Last summer, Stena Recycling announced that it is investing EUR 25 million in a modern facility to process lithium-ion batteries. The plant will be near Stena’s Nordic Recycling Center in Halmstad in south-west Sweden. Scandinavian energy company Fortum is expanding its battery recycling capacity by building a new state-of-the-art hydrometallurgical plant in Harjavalta, Finland. A total of EUR 24 million will be invested in the electric vehicle battery treatment facility.

It’s virtually impossible to say batteries without saying fire, according to Fire Rover ceo Ryan Vogelman. He reports that the USA and Canada suffered 317 fires at waste & recycling operation in 2020. Dutch mattress recycler RetourMatras is reporting a growing number of batteries and electronics hidden in its incoming waste stream. ‘These are dangerous objects that can cause a major fire and we see it more and more.’

Indeed, safety is still an important yet difficult issue for the recyclers. A string of incidents shows it continues to plague the sector. Industry veterans agree that ‘avoidable fatalities’ are unacceptable and that more must be done to combat deaths of workers, especially during collection and handling. On average, 60 people in the US waste management sector die every year.

Recyclers have a ‘key role’ in fighting surge in catalytic converter crime, according to Steve Levetan of US-based used car retailer and recycler Pull A Part. Insurance claims for such thefts rose from an average 108 per month in 2018 to 282 in 2019 before soaring to 1 203 in 2020. A recent undercover operation indicates the surge in criminal activity is far from over.

Earlier in the year, in march, fifteen people were arrested in Italy and Slovakia for the illegal trafficking of metal waste, money laundering and fake invoices and documents in a fraud case that led to estimated illegal profits of at least EUR 130 million. More than 18 000 tonnes of metal waste was illegally sold and processed in operating foundries since at least 2018.

Another social issue makes its way into the debate nowadays. Recycling businesses in the US have been urged to embark on long-term strategies of engaging with their communities as part of national efforts to promote environmental justice (EJ). The topic was highlighted by ISRI’s chair Gary Champlin at the April Convention, as well as Matthew Tejada, director of EJ at the EPA.

Naturally, we can’t recap the year without including Recycling International’s Top 100. You can find the entire list of recycling innovators in our gallery, and the top 10 recyclers are celebrated here. The Top 100 was featured in our summer issue, available here. Any ideas on who deserves a spot in the 2022 edition of our Top 100? Do let us know – perhaps your candidates will make an appearance.

Would you like to share any interesting developments or article ideas with us? Don't hesitate to contact us.

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