In its annual report for 2020, released on 31 May, the global recycling association claims that for many recyclers volumes remained low but prices improved by the end of the year.
The ferrous market in particular was helped by the announcement that China would allow the import of “certain types of scrap”, the BIR said.
BIR president Tom Bird said: “Whereas 2019 was a year of relative stability, 2020 was the complete opposite.
“Covid-19 set challenges for our industry – and for society in general – which we had never previously encountered.
“As ever, the recycling industry demonstrated its renowned ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances and to carry on with its environmentally and economically crucial work.”
In the UK, the BIR’s members include the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA), the Recycling Association and the Textile Recycling Association.
Mr Bird said the roll-out of vaccines across the world would “relieve the pressure” in the months ahead. Material demand will improve as economies start to move again, he claims.
China forecasts 8.5% growth for 2021, he said, meaning its economy nearly returned “to normal”, and demand for materials within the country is set to increase.
However, he said recyclers should “look to support our domestic economies as best we can during the years ahead” while “maintaining our ability to trade freely at a global level”.
The BIR said today (1 June) that the European Commission’s proposed changes to EU waste shipments could be highly damaging to export flows of many recycling materials, including ferrous and non-ferrous metals, recovered paper and plastics.
The Commission plans to adopt legislation in the second quarter of 2021 to support the transition to a circular economy.
The review of waste shipment policies aims to facilitate a better inspection system, measures to counter illegal shipments, and steps to manage the damage to the environment and public health caused by waste shipments to third countries outside the EU.
One of the priorities is to restrict exports of materials designated as ‘waste’, the BIR says, including many of the high-specification materials produced by the recycling industry.
Speaking at the BIR’s World Recycling Convention today, Olivier François, of the BIR’s international environmental council and Belgium-based metals recycling company Galloo, said such a move could lead to tension given that “many developing countries need the raw material”.
Julia Blees, senior policy officer at the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC), argued that the key aspect of the proposals was that importers should operate under “broadly equivalent conditions” to those applying to consumers in the EU. Ms Blees called for there to be differentiation between OECD and non-OECD countries, claiming the former adhered to similar standards to those applied in the EU.
She said: “We don’t think waste shipments should be restricted even further.”
BIR annual report 2020