Whenever I visit a member of the BMRA, much of the discussion takes place while we walk round the yard. I find this particularly helpful for putting topics into perspective, and a recent visit to a non-ferrous site was no exception.
During the tour, my host showed me his copper bays,where he had sorted the copper scrap by likely yield.
The first bay he proudly stated contained a minimum of 99% yield scrap but, by the time we reached the last bay, he was far less happy and wandered into the bay to give the pile of metal a bit of a kick while stating: “That’s probably only around 85% yield; not much cop at all.”
I have to admit I laughed.When he gave me something of a sharp look I quickly reminded him that the global average yield for copper ore was currently 0.6% to 0.8%, two orders of magnitude lower than his worst yield copper bay.Hopefully,he appreciated the irony.
The incident did, however, also make me think more broadly about one part of my remit in this job:how best to share the amazing statistics about metal recycling more widely.
The UK has an incredible ‘resource mountain’ of readily available secondary raw materials, yet I am sure many people do not even realise it. I am equally as sure they do not know we also have the technology and capability to process, identify and separate ever-more precise fractions of different metals from this valuable resource mountain.
Many BMRA members are already highly sophisticated at processing fractions to a high level of purity, and in certain market areas deploying the latest laboratory equipment so they can sort for specific alloys for their customers. This means we can potentiallydeliver almost any specification or blend of metals, be it destined for a blast furnace, electric arc furnace operators or beyond.
In fact,it is currently actually more about market prices and customer demands and less about capability that dictates current levels of separation being carried out by recyclers.
This sophistication is going to put us in good stead as and when the EU’s circular economy (CE) package is adopted.Its drive to minimise waste and maximise recycling and reuse places metals,as true permanent materials, firmly at the heart of the economy.
After all, there are very few materials that can be recycled limitless timeswithout loss of quality. In fact, given that more than 60% of all copper mined since 1900 is still in circulation today and 75% of all aluminium ever mined is also still in circulation, it is entirely possible, in theory at least, that somewhere in your office or your home is a bit of metal that you’ve seen before in a previous guise. But there is always room for improvement. While metal recyclers may already be deploying the latest innovations, the key to future growth will still be for them to become even more effective at separating metals and recovering the purest fractions possible,whatever the source of the waste stream.
With the demand for purer fractions and the potential to make more revenue through precise separation, equipment manufacturers and yard operators alike will be eager to develop and embrace new technology.
But we do need to work together to foster an environment of innovation, and may need a wider discussion on how such innovation could (and perhaps should) be supported at a national level. This would be necessary if we are to truly embrace a UK-based CE instead of exporting the majority of our metals to countries outside of the EU.
If you consider that supporting innovation in this field could, by default, lead to a more diverse UK metals industry, including a stronger steel sector, then the number of interested parties that might benefit from a seat at the discussion table grows considerably.
In fact, the foundations for any such group already exists in the form of the UK Metals Forum, which published a strategy in 2015 (see box). Bringing together Government and metalsrelated industry representatives – with the shared objective of building a stronger UK metals industry complete with a robust supply chain – will enable us to really establish a strong CE of our own.
Given our heritage in terms of industrialisation,surely this could be a goal we can all work towards together?
UK Metals Forum
The forum is an alliance of metals industries comprising the leading ferrous and non-ferrous trade associations.
Last year it published Vision 2030: The UK Metals Industry’s New Strategic Approach. This made a number of recommendations including a review of procurement policy, with the aim of sourcing 50% of materials for new infrastructure projects locally by the end of 2016.
Robert Fell is chief executive of British Metals Recycling Association