Five years after the 2008 economic crash, recyclers around the world may be finding their feet again, but they claim to face another fundamental challenge: protectionism.
Barriers to free trade was overwhelmingly the main theme when I sat in on the latest half-yearly gathering of the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR).
Many delegates and speakers in Warsaw had specific national examples: import/export restrictions; quality controls; licence requirements; bureaucracy.
It would be surprising if the BIR did not kick up a stink about such restrictions: its mission says it “promotes materials recycling, and facilitates free and fair trade of recyclables in a sustainable and competitive world economy”.
It is clear that some members are struggling to carry out such trade when powerful interests - such as steel mills - can persuade their politicians to take steps to protect those industries.
I attended one session in Warsaw in which Marcel Genet, founder and manager of French consulting firm Laplace Conseil, presented the results of a study showing the economic significance to the EU of electric arc furnaces (EAF) using scrap metal: he calculated a trade surplus of £11bn a year.
But Genet said this industry was now “threatened with new regulations and restrictions” when the authorities should “strongly favour” scrap processing and EAF because they offered substantial benefits. It was a persuasive presentation.
At its core was what seemed to be rock-solid data. But it is not always that definitive. Data on the UK’s capacity for treating waste in the future, for example, can produce widely different conclusions and heated debate.
As the CIWM’s Steve Lee tells her: “We are an industry awash with numbers, but incredibly short on information.”