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‘Essential work’ of battered recycling sector recognised around the globe

As the world adopts draconian and wide-ranging measures in a bid to arrest the coronavirus pandemic, the global scrap recycling industry is slowing down. Here are the latest reports collected by the ambassadors of the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR).

In the USA, the situation varies from state to state. The most populous of these, California, has shut down all non-essential industries but scrap recycling is considered to be essential as it is an important link in the supply chain. However, business is very slow. It is possible to buy and sell but exporting is very tough with no availability of containers.

In Europe, Italy is closing smelters as part of the strategy to control the pandemic by shutting all non-essential companies. Owing to a shortage of workers in France, most small to medium-sized businesses are closed. Large enterprises are partially open, with only 40% of yards in operation. While there is no more retail business, they are being supplied by those production plants still in operation. However, there is a question over how long this can continue.

Following an announcement on the evening of 23 March, people in the UK have been told not to leave their homes other than for essential reasons such as food shopping. Scrap has been included in the category of critical industries and larger merchants saw a flurry of activity last week, mainly as a result of their smaller counterparts wanting to turn stock into money. Some merchants have closed their doors.

Following two days of total lockdown in Saudi Arabia, there has been a shift to stringent measures being applied to scrap yards between 7am and 6pm, with a curfew in place for the intervening hours. Factories and ports are still open.

In the United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, yards in Sharjah are still in operation but business is slow for both ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Local mills are struggling in terms of both taking deliveries and payments, while export activity is minimal as the buyers are not there.

Even Korean and Malaysian buyers, who had previously always made payments on time, are now requesting delays. Yards are closed in Kuwait and in Lebanon, although the latter’s ports are still open. For the Middle East in general, policy changes are coming daily, building up the uncertainty over April deliveries and supplies worldwide.

The word used to describe the situation in India is ‘panic’. Mumbai is in total lockdown and no-one can leave their home in many parts of Gujarat. The Government has announced a raft of closures, including stopping trains up to 31 March, which is akin to a curfew. Pakistan, meanwhile, is in partial lockdown and yards are not working normally.

There is no official lockdown in Singapore and, technically, scrap yards are open for business. But this is not the case in practice because most workers are either Chinese, who haven’t returned since the Chinese New Year holidays, or Malaysians who can’t return because of border closures. There is also massive logistical disruption to container shipments.

Malaysia is effectively in lockdown regarding import cargoes, with only essential goods permitted. With scrap metals not categorised as essential, imports are not being allowed at present.

BIR ambassadors are appointed by the president and represent the organisation around the world. Working on a voluntary basis, they provide information about BIR activities in their respective working regions.

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