The Bureau of International Recycling’s (BIR’s) network of member national associations gave an update on the conditions and challenges facing the international recycling industry during an online meeting in early December. Here are some regional trends that are impacting the recycling market at present:

 

The Americas

GDP in the United States has risen and manufacturing output is within 5-6pc of pre-COVID levels. Yet 11 million Americans are currently unemployed. Expectations are of a difficult and uncertain next three months amid the likelihood of further surges in infections and a shift in policy focus following the recent US Presidential Election.

 

US recyclers looking to move material are being confronted by a lack of transport. Regarding containers, charges for shipments from China to the US West Coast have been typically eight times higher than for movements in the opposite direction. Some containers are reportedly heading empty to Asia without the US recycling industry being given an opportunity to use them.

 

To the north, Canada is also witnessing driver and container shortages, as well as protests involving rail blockades in some regions. The Canadian Association of Recycling Industries is surveying its members on supply chain issues relating to COVID so that the information can be relayed to transport officials. Canada’s recycling industry is functioning normally despite a fresh wave of COVID infections, some localized lockdowns, and a record deficit in the economy. The Canadian government’s emphasis on a “green” recovery could entail job creation potential for the recycling industry.

 

In Chile, the COVID-19 situation has stabilized since August and critical cases are falling, but a second wave is anticipated by early 2021. The domestic economy slumped 14pc earlier this year but the GDP decline for 2020 as a whole is expected to be between 4.5-5.5pc. Chile’s recyclers have been reporting better numbers since September and, on average, operations have recovered to 85-90pc of their pre-COVID-19 levels.

 

Asia

Although some countries in Southeast Asia – such as Malaysia – are still imposing strict virus-related measures, China is back to normal in business terms. High demand for goods has led to sharp increases in freight costs of, for example, 200-300pc for shipments from Hong Kong to Southeast Asia. Prices of most prime materials and plastics scrap have been heading upwards.

 

India’s COVID-19 numbers have been improving and fatality rates remain low compared with many other countries; nevertheless, new waves of infection are anticipated and states continue to adopt precautionary restrictions. Workers are returning from their home towns and villages amid generally strong industrial demand, notably from the automotive sector.

 

Europe

England has just emerged from a further month of lockdowns whereas the UK’s devolved governments in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are implementing their own systems for dealing with COVID-19, thus leading to some degree of confusion. The UK’s scrap yards have continued to operate and, in many instances, have been able to rely on existing high stocks.

 

Uncertainty in the UK businesses has been exacerbated by ongoing – and as yet unsuccessful – attempts to secure a Brexit trade deal ahead of the transition period deadline of December 31 this year. Major exporters fear that the costs of shipping to Continental Europe could climb by 25pc and that massive lorry queues could be seen on motorways as a result of delays at the ports. These concerns come at a time when exporters are already witnessing significant container shortages, blank sailings, and freight hikes.

 

Elsewhere in Europe, scrap yards in Spain have been operating normally but are, on average, 5-8pc down on full capacity. Non-ferrous operations in Germany have also been satisfactory despite ongoing COVID-19 measures.

 

Bulgaria is seeing a high number of COVID cases at present, and the closure of schools and kindergartens has led to a shortage of workers at, for example, textiles sorting centers. 

 

In Hungary, where new COVID restrictions were introduced on November 10, concern surrounds a draft proposal to bring most aspects of waste management under the auspices of a single state enterprise, including collection and treatment; this would cover, for example, separately-collected municipal wastes as well as materials falling under extended producer responsibility schemes and deposit fee systems. Production facilities using recycled materials – such as paper mills and steelworks – are exempted, as is industrial production waste.

 

In Poland, where the pandemic is still very active, the government has announced new restrictions for Christmas Eve and a new economic stimulus package for businesses that have suffered during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although the threat of a Russian ferrous scrap export ban appears to have receded, there is now a possibility that export customs duties on scrap will be raised.

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