As their eyes took in the amazing westernisation of Germanys capital, delegates at the BIR Convention found their ears burning with similar events far further afield. The incredible rate of industrialisation in China has become the key issue on the lips of everyone involved with the industry globally.
From the first session, where new legislation preventing unregistered exports there was explained, to the last the self-explanatory Workshop on China the peoples republic was a constant theme. The many representatives of the vast country must have felt at home in Berlin despite the absence of the worlds second most famous wall.
Apart from China, the three-day conference saw talk of the enlarged European Union, the End-of-Life Vehicles Directive and football pitches.
The Paper Division was told by its president, Frances Dominique Maguin, that China would continue to import paper in a similar pattern to metal. However, Far East representative Ranjit Baxi announced that like metal the orders had dried up since the Chinese New Year. He said the poor quality of some shipments had led to Beijings decision to turn away unregistered cargoes from July 1.
Germany announced that it was going to become a net importer of paper within the next two years, breaking with the European tradition of exporting recovered fibre. US representative Michael Moulton said this was great news as his country was running at around 96% capacity and would start exporting paper across the Atlantic.
Europes plastics recyclers are struggling due to low collection volumes and the ability of Asian countries to pay more for what recovered material does exist, the Plastics Committee was told. Chairman Peter Daalder, from Holland, stressed that this was leading to plant closures and bankruptcies across the continent.
Italian representative Enrico Bobbio added that there was a lack of raw material on the domestic market, while large volumes were being shipped to Asia. And Spains Marc Figueras called for greater protection for his countrys plastics recyclers otherwise some of them will disappear.
If things do not change, European recovered-clothes merchants may as well pack our bags and turn the lights off, according to Textiles Division honorary president Klaus Lower. The German said that textiles recycling is no longer a service that can be offered free of charge.
UK Textile Recycling Association national liaison manager Alan Wheeler told the meeting that cheap clothing from the Far East, and a lack of funds from buyers in Africa were crushing the trade. If last year was dire, the first five months of 2004 had been even more disastrous, Wheeler said.
With landfilling whole tyres or exporting them to many countries no longer options, more of the 2.7 million end-of-life tyres Europe creates each year have to be recycled. This has meant an increase in stocks, a decrease in profit margins and a desperate need for innovation, according to BIR Tyres Round-Table chairman Barend Ten Bruggencate of Holland.
On the positive side, this innovation was being led by a huge increase in the use of artificial football pitches using recycled tyres. I predict that now this surface can be used, it can be the solution of the future, said Bruggencate.
Professor Ameling of The German Steel Federation told delegates that more than a billion tonnes of steel would be produced this year for the first time. This was due to the rapid growth in China, which has increased its share of global steel production to 22.9% from 8.6% in 1990.
Merchants from across Europe agreed that the increased demand from Asia offered a huge opportunity in the long-run, despite the short-term blip caused by China p