21 May 2020 by Robyn White

UK markets ‘under pressure but improving’

A Covid-19 update from the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) has said that parts of the UK recycling market are under “severe pressure”, but business is “slowly improving”.

The update, published earlier this week (19 May) by the Brussels-based international organisation, follows feedback from a virtual meeting of its members on 15 May.

It highlights that the UK’s metal industry is suffering from a steep drop in new car registrations, and added that recent rises in paper prices in the UK could be short-lived.

The update forms as part of a series from the body, updating the industry on global recycling markets

The summary assesses the changes in recycling markets now that coronavirus lockdowns are easing and countries are beginning economic re-openings.


In the UK, the BIR reported that “severe pressure” has been reported  in the secondary metals industry as new car registrations plummeted 97% last month.

It added that while sales are still a problem and some yards are still only delivering and collecting, business is slowly improving.

The UK has also seen drop in recovered paper volumes which helped boost prices and restore margins, but collections are slowing resuming. The BIR expects prices to also decrease as the EU reopens.

In anticipation of a second wave of the virus, some mills have been overstocking in the UK, according to the update.


With new car sales dropping by 97%, the update says some metal recyclers are struggling (Picture: Shutterstock)

The BIR said that despite China lifting nearly all lockdown restrictions, factories do not have enough orders to operate at full capacity, as well as insufficient markets to supply.

The BIR added that factories are operating at only around 30-40% of capacity.

“Demand problems will probably persist, with countries averse to buying from China not only because of virus fears but also as part of a bid to reduce their dependence on others – something which could dramatically change the Chinese business landscape in the years to come,” the BIR said in its update.

China has also seen “some plastic recycling plants going bankrupt” and problems are being encountered with informal labour.

Oil prices

In “a positive development for plastics recycling”, the BIR says oil prices are improving slowly following their sharp decline; however, it warned that the costs of processing scrap are still greater than resale prices.


With India’s lockdown measures being eased, the expectation if that the industry will become fully operational in the next few weeks, however factories are still only operating at 30-40% of production capacity.

Indian trade associations are continuing to liaise with the government over ongoing port congestion, notably on having detentions lifted so as to reduce the impact on international trade, the update explained.


Spain has reported a 15% increase in industry activity over the last two weeks. Scrap yards are open, although working patterns are dictated by the flows of material they receive.

Ferrous and non-ferrous operators are working at 30-50% capacity, with few nearing the more normal capacity of 60-75%. Tyre recyclers are only running at 20-30% capacity as car repair shops remain closed.

Textiles are only working at 30% of capacity and municipal collections are suspended.

Poland has seen severe disruptions in scrap collections, with a volume drop of 75% for aluminium 50% for lead, 25% for tin, and 45% for copper in April.

The BIR confirmed that aluminium has been hit hard due to difficulties in the automotive sector. The organisation added that the USA is seeing a “reasonable balance” in supply and demand, but at low levels, while Canada is focusing on green encomium recovery.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, one of BIR’s key aims has been to “seek out regular virus-related updates from around the world and to disseminate relevant information to the recycling industry”, and has published a series of global recycling market updates.


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