Steel, metals scrap merchants, recyclers fear trade impact of revised EC shipment rules

Scrap metal industry association International Recycling Bureau (BIR) said Jan. 18 it is “very concerned” about the impact on the global circular economy of the European Parliament’s approval of revisions to the European Commission’s 2013 Waste Shipment Regulation.

European Recycling Industries’ Confederation EuRIC expressed “dismay” at the revisions, which have been under discussion since 2021.

The EP voted Jan. 17 in a plenary session to approve 154 amendments designed to “improve and toughen up” the regulation, in line with the EC’s Green Deal principles, according to Brussels-based BIR. International scrap industry sources, many affiliated to BIR, fear the new regulation, by curbing scrap exports from the European Union, could play into the hands of EU steelmakers seeking scrap supplies for their decarbonization, while impeding decarbonization elsewhere and generally distorting markets.

According to an EP briefing document, the revised regulation aims “at easing shipments of waste for reuse and recycling in the EU, to support the transition to a circular economy; ensuring that waste exported from the EU is managed in an environmentally sound manner in the destination countries; and stepping up enforcement to counteract illegal shipments of waste.”

Trade of vital raw materials such as recycled metals should not be restricted, argues BIR, particularly as secondary and recycled metals are becoming increasingly valuable raw materials in the decarbonization of the metals industry worldwide.

Scrap merchants

“These regulations represent a thinly disguised back-door protectionism that puts our industry in danger while severely disrupting the global circular economy,” BIR president Tom Bird said in a statement.

BIR noted that while intra-European movements of scrap or “waste” are clearly facilitated by the revised regulation, exports to countries outside the EU – industrialized (OECD) countries and developing (non-OECD) countries – will be considerably burdened by new intergovernmental agreements and inspections, audits and checks on facilities in third countries.

“There is a fine line between applying the proximity principle for wastes, keeping them in the EU, and commercially disadvantaging trading partners outside the EU, denying them resources,” BIR said.

The bureau claims that certain amendments adopted by the EP will need to be examined and likely changed by the Council of Ministers in coming weeks and months in order to comply with the EU’s international obligations.

BIR executives last year said the imposition of EU scrap steel and metal export controls risked distorting both international and regional scrap markets, particularly for ferrous scrap. Controls could reduce global market supplies, inflating prices in some markets, but at the same time lowering EU prices due to higher regional supply, which could in turn inhibit scrap arisings and collection within the EU. This would play into the hands of EU steelmakers, reducing the cost to mills of ferrous scrap, likely to be increasingly sought after for their decarbonization programs.

Ferrous scrap is by far the most exported type of waste from the EU – 19.5 million mt in 2021, equal to 59% of all EU waste exports, according to statistical database Eurostat. For every metric ton of carbon steel scrap recycled, a saving of 1.5 mt of CO2 is achieved, and in case of stainless-steel scrap this saving is even higher, reaching roughly 5 mt of CO2, reports European steel industry association Eurofer.

Eurofer Jan. 17 welcomed the EP’s adoption of the revision of the Waste Shipment Regulation, but warned that existing loopholes must be closed in order to avoid circumvention of the new measures. Monitoring of waste treatment needs to be carried out to ensure a level playing field between the EU and other countries, it said.

BIR did however see some positive aspects of the revision, in terms of introduction of an electronic system and improved record keeping and statistical analysis.

No target for metals recycling levels

Brussels-based EuRIC expressed “dismay” at the latest revision of the Waste Shipment Regulation, while applauding the establishment of mandatory recycled content targets for plastics. However, “the failure to consider targets for metals and paper is a significant omission that will erode demand and subsequently green investment in new and upscaled recycling facilities in Europe,” the recycling confederation said in a statement.

“Recycled materials already struggle to compete with extracted raw materials,” noted Emmanuel Katrakis, EuRIC secretary general.

Turkish import deepsea ferrous scrap prices – a barometer of the global scrap market – softened on Jan. 18, as Turkish mills continued to hold back for lower prices, while sell side indications also softened, after months of price volatility.

Platts, part of S&P Global Commodity Insights, assessed Turkish imports of premium heavy melting scrap 1/2 (80:20) at $407.50/mt CFR Jan. 18, down $1/mt on day.

Plastics ‘taking a beating’

“The worldwide concern about plastic pollution will likely lead to a prohibition on plastic recyclables exports from the EU, and furthermore has led to harsher conditions on exports of other recyclables desired by industries around the world,” BIR’s statement said.

“Plastics are taking a beating with the intention to keep all plastic waste in the EU. ‘EU waste, EU responsibility’ was the mantra,” BIR said in a bulletin. However, the association added that it foresees that supplanting more recent EU classifications of plastics wastes with the slightly older Basel Convention codes will hamper intra-EU movements of plastic wastes to recycling and recovery facilities.

— Diana Kinch