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Angry recyclers claim free scrap metal trade is in danger

Recyclers across Europe are standing up to lawmakers in Brussels over the proposed banning or restricting of metal scrap exports. Their voice is growing increasingly stronger and less diplomatic with scrap industry leaders accusing the steel industry of ‘misleading lobbying’ and politicians and bureaucrats of ‘fundamental arrogance’.

The European Commission is revising the EU rules on waste shipments to encourage more recycling within the EU and is exploring ways to reduce exports of secondary materials. Prospective new regulations on both ferrous and non-ferrous recyclable raw materials would harm Europe’s recycling sector, recyclers warned at a BIR conference in Brussels, the first staged physically for two years because of Covid. A ban or tighter restrictions would have a devastating effect on recycling businesses and operations across Europe, insisted Murat Bayram, director of non-ferrous at EMR.

‘Recyclers have invested millions in capacity and already have to deal with interpretation of EU rules,’ he said. ‘For example, Sweden and Austria are banning copper cable exports across EU borders. This means that a recycler in, let’s say Germany, is limited in doing business. But these companies have invested in capacity to process these cables; they counted on the these volumes. That’s why it is important to have free trade.’

The proposed revision of waste shipment regulations (WSR) represents one of the greatest threats to the international trading of recyclable raw materials for decades, according to metal scrap trader Michael Lion.

Undermining free trade

‘With more and more regulations being imposed, there is clearly a move to undermine the free trade. I have been in this business for 50 years and have never seen a more challenging time as we face today.’

Lion blamed politicians and bureaucrats of being ‘fundamentally arrogant’. If they really were committed to climate change reduction of carbon emissions and the global circular economy as identified by the Paris Accords, Lion argued, they would enable free trade of scrap to help emerging markets adapt their future operations to an increasing use of secondary materials.

Both Lion and Bayram criticised what they called ‘misleading lobbying’ by Europe’s steel producers, referring to a recent statement by Europe’s steel industry organisations calling on the EU to restrict exports of metal and electronic waste. Their statement says: ‘Without setting stricter rules under which waste can be exported, Europe’s exports of waste metals and their wider products risk causing harm to the environment and health in developing areas of the world. A visible example is the 750 000 tonnes of electronics waste (and its contained metals) leaving Europe annually, a significant percentage of which is treated in the informal recycling sector of Africa and other regions. Such complex products can only be treated properly in state-of-the-art recycling facilities, to avoid losses of low-volume critical raw materials and to ensure safe treatment of hazardous substances.’

Letter to the European Commission

While the world recycling organisation gathered in Brussels, some 300 recycling representatives wrote to the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Slovenian Presidency of the Council calling for a clear distinction between exporting ‘problematic waste streams’, such as electronics, and raw materials for recycling (RMR) which meet quality specifications. Their letter was initiated by EuRIC, the umbrella organisation for European recycling industries.

A final revision of WSR is expected within a couple of months.

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