If you scratch the surface, it seems as if the metals recycling industry has only recently been concerned with the issue of theft and the Scrap Metal Dealers’ Act 2013. But the greatest challenge facing the sector is successfully coexisting with our neighbours and surrounding communities.
As an industry, we need to get better at communicating our importance to the country as well as our successes. Metals recycling is worth more than £5bn to the UK’s economy. The industry continues to invest in world-leading recycling and recovery processes in order to reach the UK’s ever-increasing targets, particularly regarding end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).
From 2015, the UK must recover 95% from each vehicle under the ELV Directive: 85% must be recycled or reused and the additional 10% can be achieved using energy recovery from the combustion of non-recyclable residues.
Currently, metal recyclers and vehicle dismantlers are reaching the existing recycling and reuse target of 85%. The industry has moved rapidly to make the significant investment needed to achieve the 95% target but a lot of work still needs to be done.
The BMRA welcomes the WEEE regulations published by the Department for Business Innovation and Skills last November. The chosen option should reduce the cost of compliance while helping the UK to achieve higher recycling targets and improve the treatment of WEEE.
The proposed approach is proportionate and recognises that, the greater the value left in the waste stream, the more likely there will be high levels of real reuse, recycling and recovery without recourse to artificial economic tools that distort or disrupt markets.
Hopefully the increasing requirements will drive the UK’s sector to take the lead in Europe in the advanced recycling and recovery of end-of-life consumer goods as well as creating green jobs and economic growth.
An independent report published by the BMRA in 2013 confirmed that metal fragmentisers, commonly known as shredders, are vital to increasing the UK’s recovery rates and share of the global market for recycled metals. In fact, shredders are the most efficient technology for extracting both ferrous and non-ferrous metals from a wide range of waste streams.
Shredding operations are due to come under the Industrial Emissions Directive in 2015, and the report found that shredders pose a very low risk to the environment and human health. But it highlighted a number of further improvements that operators will be expected to implement.
The study of more than half of the UK’s 45 shredding facilities said that the fragmentising sector is also developing increasingly sophisticated separation and recovery techniques. Such techniques will increase the sector’s ability to maximise the recovery and recycling of metallic waste and help producers meet WEEE and ELV obligations.
The BMRA is now working with the Government and European partners to ensure that the Emissions Directive regulations for shredders are fit for purpose and reflect the low-risk characteristics of this process.
Through regulation and new technologies, the sector is increasingly recovering material from complex consumer goods which were previously landfilled. Invariably this results in the increased processing of residual waste streams which requires more plant, equipment and space.
This, with the continued pressure on land as towns expand, amounts to a real challenge. Every new recovery target or material entering a product lifecycle makes metals recycling increasingly complex. But you cannot increase recycling rates without making adequate provision for it.
In addition to the challenges of establishing and expanding metal recycling facilities, the exporting of recycled materials is perceived negatively. The Associate Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group report on exporting valuable secondary raw materials derived from waste identifies the crucial role that exports play in helping the UK extract greater value from its waste.
International trade and exports are vital because far more metal is recovered in the UK than domestic metal producers can consume. This is down to an increase in the volume of metal collected and processed, coupled with the decline of the UK’s metal production industry. The UK is the leading exporter of recycled metal in Europe, with 60% of the recycled metal processed in the UK being exported.
British metals recycling is a genuine success story, but it also creates potential conflicts with people who want to live near river estuaries or on the outskirts of towns where scrap yards have been located for generations. One person’s successful metals recycling facility is another person’s noisy neighbour.
Recycling is widely supported but few want to live beside it: a conundrum that needs to be resolved by the industry, political leaders and society.
Ian Hetherington, director-general of the British Metals Recycling Association