Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of MRW, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

2014 - Robin Wiener, president, ISRI

The scrap recycling industry is truly global in nature. In any given year, the US alone exports 30-40% of its scrap. In 2012, the US exported more than $27bn worth of scrap commodities to 160 different countries. Yet there are a number of forces at work against the industry when it comes to global trade, most prominent of which is the refusal by some in the global community to distinguish scrap from waste.

Scrap is not waste, and recycling is not disposal. It is a phrase that goes to the core of the recycling community, yet the fact remains that many governments worldwide continue to call valuable materials – commodities – waste, which in turns causes impediments to free and fair trade.

Both the Basel Convention and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Waste Agreement permit non-hazardous ‘wastes’ to move freely, yet there are constantly questions regarding whether or not certain recyclable materials may move freely. If we acknowledge that scrap is not waste then we never have to get to the question of whether or not a material is subject to the Basel Convention or the OECD Waste Agreement.

Further complicating the matter, any form of individual government intervention in trade could have unintended, negative consequences on the entire global marketplace. For example, South Africa’s recent imposition of export controls and a 20% price preference for domestic consumers can be a recipe for disaster because it disrupts the global supply and demand equation. Similarly, while we recognize a sovereign’s right and duty to protect the health and safety of its citizens as well as its environment, import restrictions based merely on the quality of materials, or whether those materials meet a specification grade, amount to nothing more than a technical barrier to trade.

Perhaps the greatest example of how artificial intervention in scrap markets can result in unanticipated consequences is when the US imposed controls on ferrous scrap exports in 1973 and 1974.  Domestic steel producers argued scrap exports were creating a domestic scrap shortage and foreign scrap buyers were thereby raising the cost of US steel to industries at home. The objective of the restrictions was to retard the outflow of scrap to foreign users to protect the supply available for domestic users and reduce the level of scrap price increases. Restrictions were placed on the amount of scrap exported. Despite the export controls, the price of scrap continued to rise at an accelerating rate. The principle was called “Control Reversal” because export purchasers were agreeing to prices substantially above the US domestic market level because the rising global demand for steel and the restricted supply of scrap from the US caused foreign buyers to vigorously compete.

For the recycling industry to truly be successful, there must be free and fair trade of recyclables. The planet depends on it.

Robin Wiener, president, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI)

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.