Keep learning, that’s about all I can really say.” Those words of advice came from a retiree I was interviewing who had spent more than three decades with the same company researching and testing recycling equipment and technologies.
His comment was a reply to my question about what advice he would offer to a younger person who was just now entering the field in which he had worked from the mid-1960s to the late 1990s.
If someone with a breadth and depth of knowledge built up during nearly 35 years of painstaking research work advises that there is always more to learn, it is probably wise to heed that advice.
Recyclers have no shortage of avenues to pursue when seeking to learn more, and I like to think the magazines, e-newsletters, websites and conferences managed by the Recycling Today Media Group are among those avenues worth traveling.
One of the other premium learning opportunities each year takes place April 6-10 in Las Vegas in the form of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI) 2014 Convention & Exposition (www.isriconvention.org).
For readers who might be newer to the industry or who haven’t yet invested the time to check out an ISRI convention, among the topics and industry sectors in which knowledge can be absorbed during this five-day span are:
The ISRI Convention & Exposition means different things to different long-time attendees. Some pursue new trading contacts vigorously, others look forward to seeing friends within the industry once each year and yet others most enjoy walking through the exhibit hall to see new or modified products.
In my line of work, I get to enjoy each of those aspects of the convention as well as one other critical one: attending and taking notes during some of the many sessions and workshops organized by ISRI.
Processors and traders alike can benefit from attending sessions and workshops, where they can follow the advice from the retired researcher to keep learning—no matter how much they think they already know.
Swedish fashion retailer H&M, Stockholm, has announced the launch of its first line of clothing made from recycled textile fibers collected from its Garment Collecting initiative. The five denim pieces, including jeans and jackets, contain 20 percent recycled cotton, the company says.
H&M launched Garment Collecting in 2013 as a global initiative to encourage its customers to bring in unwanted garments of any brand and in any condition to H&M stores to be given a new life. Customers who donate clothes are awarded with a store discount.
The U.S.Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that textile waste occupies nearly 5 percent of all landfill space.
H&M CEO Karl-Johan Persson says in an interview on the company’s website, “I hope that in the future, upcycling old clothes will be a standard in our industry … and that making clothes will have a minimal impact on waters.”
H&M, which says it strives for sustainability, was recently ranked 64th on Corporate Knights Capital’s Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World. In 2012, H&M recycled 92 percent of the waste handled at its distribution centers, according to the company’s website.
For more information, visit www.hm.com/recycling.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has announced the opening of the “Border Gateway to Nature” at Border Field State Park in San Diego. The 400-acre park in the southwestern corner of the U.S. had inadequate signage and access points, which have since been improved by using trash pulled from the Tijuana River Valley and tributary canyons as building materials.
In September 2013, the EPA awarded a $45,000 grant through its Border 2020 program and the San Diego Foundation to 4Walls International, a nonprofit binational environmental group, to create artistic elements and park benches made of plastic soda bottles stuffed with river waste as fill material for construction. 4Walls paid Tijuana residents 5 pesos for each plastic bottle stuffed with trash from the river that they collected; those bottles were then used as building materials, along with concrete, in benches and a welcome sign.
A recent study prepared by San Diego-based URS, under the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle), estimates that more than 10 million plastic bottles are clogging the sensitive ecosystem.
Steven Wright, 4Walls executive director, says cleaning up the Tijuana River Valley as well as making use of the material collected improves the lives of residents. “The whole point is that we can source manage the garbage upstream in Tijuana, incentivizing it as sustainable building material for affordable housing, schools, parks and community centers. We can essentially incentivize the trash with a higher quality of life,” Wright says.
In addition to updating Border Gateway to Nature with a $45,000 grant, 4Walls International created park space and a nature reserve in a canyon in Tijuana just south of the border fence known as “Los Sauces.” The park made use of 4,000 discarded plastic soda bottles stuffed with trash, 276 glass bottles and 1,000 pounds of miscellaneous plastic and foam to build the site’s infrastructure. The innovative construction technique reduced the cost of raw materials, such as concrete, while increasing the structures’ strength, the U.S. EPA says.
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Economic statistics gathered and distributed in Europe finally point to slow and steady economic growth, but the faint pulse of an economic rebound does not seem to be making a healthy patient out of the ferrous scrap industry there.
In the words of one London-based scrap broker, the illness that comes to mind in connection with recent scrap market conditions is diabetes.
“My personal feeling is that economies of efficiency and capacity have been so stretched that the scrap metal business has almost become like a case of diabetes—once you get it, it is hard to get rid of,” says Diwakar Gautam of Sunberg Limited.
Extending his diabetes metaphor, Gautam says those in the industry need not perish from their condition. They are “affected by a multitude of rapidly changing parameters, [but] you can live with it if you manage it well.”
Gautam is not alone in seeing the remainder of 2014 as producing more of the same in terms of austere scrap flows and a slow pace of activity in the ferrous scrap sector in Europe.
Since sub-prime mortgages began pummeling the balance sheets of European banks in 2007 and 2008, the construction sector throughout most of Europe has been a foremost victim of the financial crisis.
Following close behind the lending industry meltdown were government austerity programs adopted in several EU nations, which provided a further decrease in construction and demolition projects. The result has been a sharp reduction in ferrous scrap generated by building activities.
If scrap generation is going to improve in Europe in early 2014, it has not been especially noticeable to recyclers in the first few weeks of the year. “There are no indications of an increase in scrap arisings despite a very mild 2013,” says Gautam. “It appeared by the end of 2013 that people were putting off action or holding onto hope that 2014 will change things,” he continues, “but apart from the digit 3 changing to digit 4 [on the calendar], not a lot changed as far as volumes.”
EU steel on the rebound?
A survey of steel industry analysts and forecasters shows that the majority see 2014 as a year when steelmakers in nations beyond China will experience greater demand for their products.
A mid-January 2014 compilation of forecasts gathered by the Financial Times shows optimism regarding steel production figures in Europe and some other parts of the world, “offsetting a slowdown in Chinese growth.”
The Financial Times survey of 15 steel industry analysts pointed to a global steel production rise of 3.6% in 2014. Although the analysts foresee Europe’s steel industry rebounding after six years of decline, their predicted growth rate for 2014 remains below the global average.
“A 2.4% year-on-year increase in output in Europe will partly offset a slowdown in China, as the world’s biggest steel producer moves from an investment to a services-driven economy,” says the newspaper.
Steel output in China is tabbed at 4% (based on averaging out the 15 forecasts), down from a 6% growth figure in 2013.
Among parts of the world with new furnaces and mills coming online that may lead to greater national output are India, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations, some former Soviet Union countries and some Latin American nations.
Rolf Willeke, who is statistics advisor to the Ferrous Division of the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), Brussels, maintains some optimism for 2014, if only to help erase the memory of 2013. Says Willeke, “2013 was a bad year for our industry [but] at the moment we have the feeling that the availability of steel scrap is improving.”
Ferrous scrap generation has been especially slow the past several years in southern Europe, where Ruggero Alocci brokers scrap with Alocci Rappresentanze Industriali, Genoa, Italy. Alocci is aware that forecasters are anticipating a modest recovery in 2014, but he is not certain to what extent it will help scrap processors in nations such as Spain and Italy.
“Rising labour costs and a strengthening euro could again hurt the EU’s competitiveness, while the political instability in some countries poses a threat to a fast sustainable recovery,” observes Alocci. “Consequently, 2014 is foreseen as a little better than the previous year, but without significant growth,” he adds.
The construction and demolition sectors, long dormant, are not viewed as likely to boost ferrous scrap generation significantly by sources contacted throughout Europe. “At the moment it is difficult to see a better situation for the demolition sectors in Europe,” Willeke says.
Gautam says bluntly, “Europe is in no stage of a construction and demolition boom in activity.” He says in the United Kingdom “there are isolated pockets of activity,” such as London, but adds, “these are not indicative of Britain as a whole. Demolition activity is slow because the economics don’t work out in favour of it.”
In searching for something positive to say about Europe’s ferrous scrap market, the notion of balance is offered, since weak supply has recently been coupled with weak demand. “Scrap arisings and mills demand are well-balanced,” Alocci says as of early February, “and the winter is, so far, not influencing scrap transport.”
Weak demand for the EU’s ferrous scrap has been coming not just from Europe but also from some of its traditional export markets.
Processors and brokers in the EU who do have ferrous scrap to sell are often finding fewer bidders for that scrap on the global market.
Willeke says each of the EU’s biggest overseas buyers of ferrous scrap have been curtailing their purchasing habits, according to figures covering the first three quarters of 2013.
“ was a difficult year for scrap exports from the EU,” Willeke comments. “At the moment I am not seeing that the situations of the main buyers of EU steel scrap will be changing in early 2014.”
By volume, Turkey is by far the largest export destination for ferrous scrap from the EU. According to figures Willeke collects from German steel federation WV Stahl and other European organisations, however, Turkey was on pace to import 10% less ferrous scrap from the EU in 2013 compared with 2012. (This was after data for the first nine months of 2013 had been recorded.)
Willeke says Turkey’s volume drop has been the greatest, while the percentage drop for the next two largest EU ferrous scrap importers, India and China, has been even higher (See chart, below right.).
“These reductions could not be compensated through greater deliveries to Egypt (1.29 million tonnes through September) or to Pakistan (0.37 million tonnes through September),” says Willeke.
From his vantage point in London, Gautam says overseas buyers continue to make inquiries but will not buy at any price. “Export buyers are aggressively searching as always, but without the workable prices,” he comments. In many emerging markets, he adds, “slow worldwide activity [for manufactured goods] is affecting their local economies.”
In 2009 when global ferrous scrap demand and pricing fell, Chinese steel mills came into the market and purchased additional scrap to help feed their always-hungry basic oxygen furnaces. Recyclers are not convinced that particular bit of history will repeat itself, however.
The Chinese government has set a target to consume more than 100 million tonnes of ferrous scrap per year by 2018, Willeke, says, however, he adds: “It is notable that for steelmaking China will be using more domestically supplied steel scrap and reducing its imports.”
Willeke says in the first nine months of 2013, China’s steelmakers “increased their steel scrap usage (up 2.7% to 64.3 million tonnes) but reduced their scrap imports (down 11% to 3.46 million tonnes).”
Gautam expresses concern that China’s era of roaring, always-growing annual steel production figures may be about to end.
“China looks very unlikely to get aggressively into the ferrous scrap markets, and it appears to me that local capacity control in China is driven by policy makers making it harder to operate,” he comments.
Gautam also points out that China’s policy to weed out older, polluting steel mills may go hand in hand with the country’s efforts to tighten the lending market for construction projects—meaning less structural steel would be necessary.
Forecasts for Europe’s steel sector are largely calling for more output in 2014 compared with 2013 (See the sidebar “EU steel on the rebound?” above). However, a low-single-digit percentage rise in steelmaking would be tied to a very modest base of output in 2013.
If the ferrous scrap market—and the overall economy of the EU—is to rebound later in 2014, it will come as a surprise to recyclers and traders who have become skeptical about the state of the global economy.
Looking at charts of prior recessions and recoveries, somewhere in the recovery phase there was typically an upward spike for several economic quarters when factories surged to life to catch up with newly resurgent demand. That spike has been anticipated for several years now but has yet to materialise.
Economists disagree as to what role consumer or manager sentiment plays in a rebound, but one bit of good news may come in the form of improved levels of confidence toward the end of 2013.
“In December  the Economic Sentiment Indicator (ESI) increased by 1.6 points in the euro area (to 100) and 1.4 points in the EU (to 103.5),” notes the European Commission (EC) in a January 2014 news release. “Sentiment in the euro area is thus back to its long-term average for the first time since July 2011,” the EC news release continues.
A graph of this economic sentiment found on the commission’s website (http://europa.eu/rapid/press- release_IP-14-7_en.htm) shows a wavy line that contained a spike in 2009 just to get back to average but that is still awaiting the spike that will indicate a new surge in economic growth. (The chart for the companion Industrial Confidence Indicator in the EU shows an identical pattern.)
It likely will take such a surprising spike in not only in sentiment but also in resulting industrial activity to put European scrap processors and traders back into fast motion.
In hard-hit Southern Europe, Alocci says he does not see such a spike as likely in 2014. “Domestic demand [for steel and scrap] will likely remain weak, as a result of the elevated unemployment and soft wage growth,” he comments. “Consequently, 2014 is foreseen as a little better that the previous year, but without significant growth.”
The author is editor of Recycling Today Global Edition and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visitors to large nonferrous scrap processing facilities in China are not likely to see the same widespread use of automated processing systems as they would in Europe or North America.
As China’s scrap industry developed rapidly in the 1990s and in the current century, scrap facility operators drew upon that nation’s abundant labour supply to sort and prepare material.
At some facilities, workforces numbering in the hundreds hand-sorted through mixed metals grades such as zorba or fed lengths of wire and cable through stripping machines operated with foot pedals.
These practices are still in place, particularly the foot-pedal wire stripping workstations that can be found by the dozens at some locations.
The recent installation of a second wire and cable processing system at a nonferrous recycling facility in Tianjin, China, however, provides an example of an investment in automation in a part of the world that has traditionally relied on readily available labour to accomplish its sorting and processing tasks.
Tonnes to do
Wire recycling facilities in China quickly caught up to or surpassed the volume of material handled by similar facilities in Europe or North America.
At the same time wire and cable processing system makers are finding new interest in emerging economies, there are still sales to be made in traditional markets as well.
A wire chopping line made by MTB Recycling, Trept, France, was installed in the United States late in the summer of 2013 at Upstate Shredding, in the town of Owego, New York. The sale and installation was made through Wendt Corp., the New York state-based equipment maker and distributor that serves as MTB’s exclusive distributor in the United States.
The high-volume chopping line is the first owned by Upstate, which has long operated an automobile shredder in Owego. Upstate Shredding is a privately held scrap metal processor with 15 locations in the northeastern United States. The growing company says it processed approximately 1 million tons of ferrous and 200 million pounds of nonferrous metal in 2013.
According to Adam Weitsman, owner of the Upstate Shredding – Ben Weitsman network of 15 scrap yards, his company saw the potential a chopping line could provide by not only helping to increase profits for the company but also by providing the ability to further process insulated copper wire from ASR (automobile shredder residue). “Due to problems in exporting to China [and other] import restrictions, we needed to be able to process it here in the United States,” says Weitsman.
Noting that MTB itself is a “large processing company” in its native France, Weitsman says “we felt they would have the most experience with the product.”
Upstate Shredding’s intention is to refine low-grade insulated copper wire from ASR into copper chops that are more than 99 percent pure. The company says it plans to chop a 12-month backlog of materials and then will move onto processing copper and aluminium insulated wire from its own feeder yards as well as insulated copper wire from other shredder operators.
The chopping line installed in Owego features a BDR 2400 pre-chopper, two BAT 1200 granulators, air density separators and what Wendt Corp. calls proprietary separation equipment.
“This installation puts North America back in play,” says Tom Wendt, president of Wendt Corp. “This is an upgrade that allows for significantly increased domestic sale of copper, not just for export,” says Wendt of the opportunities available to Upstate Shredding.
Throughout the past 15 years, however, even as the volume at Chinese plants scaled up, plant owners did not rush to embrace the labour-saving automated systems that have long been preferred by company owners in those other parts of the world.
According to Ulrika Persson, global marketing manager with Denmark-based wire and cable processing equipment maker Eldan Recycling A/S, nonferrous scrap recyclers in Asia’s fast-developing economies have recently been stepping up their investments in automated equipment.
“During the last few years we have noticed a large change in the [sales] leads from Asia,” says Persson. “They have become more focused on larger production systems with specific production requirements, rather than small-scale systems at a lower price.”
In late 2013, Zhang Wensheng, president of Tianjin Xinneng Renewable Resources Co. Ltd. in that Chinese city, traveled along with a colleague to visit Eldan Recycling’s office and plant in Faaborg, Denmark, after ordering its second automated wire and cable processing system.
Tianjin Xinneng’s second wire and cable system was a model capable of processing up to three tonnes of material per hour. This is at the upper end of Eldan’s product range, which Persson describes as including “production capacities from 250 kilograms to 8,000 kilograms per production hour.”
President Zhang and his colleague, a vice president with Tianjin Xinneng, “often travel the world to visit their suppliers of both scrap products and processing equipment,” according to an Eldan news release.
In Faaborg, the duo was able to inspect their new three-tonnes-per-hour cable recycling line prior to shipment. “We are very proud that Mr. Zhang and Mr. Wang found time to visit our factory in Denmark,” says Henning Nørgaard, an Eldan Recycling territory manager.
The copper chops being prepared by Tianjin Xinneng will need to meet a purity specification in line with its role as feedstock in the company’s smelters.
In addition to having purchased automated European-made wire and cable processing equipment, Tianjin Xinneng also operates Spanish and Italian copper smelting equipment.
“When processing scrap cables into copper, the purity is very important and the Eldan equipment ensures up to 99.5% metal purity,” says Eldan of the unit it has sold to Tianjin Xinneng.
In addition to preparing copper chops for its own smelters, Tianjin Xinneng also produces aluminium chops for sale and a chopped plastic product made from the jackets of the wire and cable and is involved in several other recycling sectors.
The company, which is in its second generation of family management, operates from a sizable facility with nearly 300,000 square metres of space. Workers there process and dismantle many kinds of scrap in addition to wire and cable, including waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), end-of-life vehicles and plastic scrap.
Although the company employs about 2,000 people, it has nonetheless been seeking out processing equipment from around the world. Among the nations represented with equipment onsite at Tianjin Xinneng are Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain and Taiwan.
Before ordering the three-tonnes-per hour cable recycling plant that is on its way, the company acquired a pre-owned Eldan cable recycling plant and began to use it. “They are satisfied with the performance of the line, and what is more natural, when the activities are expanded, than to buy the second line from the same manufacturer?” asks Nørgaard.
Zhang says he was impressed with what he saw of the equipment design and manufacturing process in Faaborg. “We were happy to visit the Eldan factory to see how the Danish people develop, design and produce all the equipment in their facilities,” he comments. “All machines were tested to our full satisfaction during our stay and we now look forward to receiving them in our factory in Tianjin.”
Eldan staff members say they expect to take part in more installations in Asia like the one in Tianjin as scrap processors in nations with rapidly developing economies seek labour-saving automation.
“Together with our Beijing-based agent Ferrostaal, we have already sold more recycling lines into China,” says Eldan Recycling Managing Director Dr. Toni Reftman.
Says Persson, “Information travels fast and the market for recycling equipment has become global, which means the customers become more well-informed and selective. Quality in all ways is most important.”
Equipment makers will likely help that information travel by staying involved in emerging markets. “Eldan Recycling has sold cable recycling equipment all over Asia, and we continuously expand our network there by attending exhibitions, summits and meeting industry interest organisations,” says Persson. “We see great potential in the region.”
The author is editor of Recycling Today Global Edition and can be contacted at email@example.com.
For the past 15 years, the People’s Republic of China has imported enormous amounts of scrap materials from the European Union, North America and any other part of the world where scrap can be placed into an ocean-going container.
In 2013, with the advent of Operation Green Fence, the expectations regarding quality for shipment into China increased considerably, although Green Fence was far from the first quality improvement step that has been taken by China’s government agencies.
For several years, China’s Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) has required shippers to be licenced before they send containers of scrap materials to a Chinese port.
The AQSIQ licensing and renewal processes are considered complicated and thorough by many exporters, who also have learned that delays and rejections when seeking licencing can be a genuine setback.
Simon Du founded Beijing-based K&C International (www.aqsiqservice.com) specifically to help overseas recyclers overcome the linguistic and procedural barriers that can make the AQSIQ application process difficult.
In the following Q&A with Recycling Today Global Edition Editor Brian Taylor, Simon comments on some of the difficulties inherent in the licencing process as well as some solutions a Chinese-speaking consultancy can offer.
Recycling Today (RT): What types of scrap exporters benefit from having an AQSIQ licence?
Simon Du, K&C International (SD): Scrap exporters exporting renewable resources like scrap paper and plastics, smelting slag, scrap metal, scrap wire and cables, scrap hardware appliances, old motors and compressed pieces of scrap automobiles and so on to China can all benefit from having an AQSIQ licence. This is mainly reflected in two aspects: first, they will be qualified for exporting to China; second, they can directly export the goods to a Chinese port without the limitation on the quantity of the goods.
RT: What are some of the difficult steps to obtaining a licence?
SD: There are several difficulties in obtaining an AQSIQ licence. First, due to the language barrier, scrap exporters may not be able to directly search for or read China’s current policies or policy updates. We’ve encountered more than once foreign suppliers who have prepared documents for the AQSIQ licence application following the old abolished laws. It is a very realistic and serious problem.
Second, the enterprises applying for an AQSIQ licence must first obtain an ISO9001 or RIOS licence.
Third, foreign suppliers usually can’t fully understand the government’s specific requirements on different documents, so they often can’t prepare properly or fail to meet the requirements. In addition, as they are not familiar with the Chinese regulatory framework, the environmental control standards for different goods, and the rules of the game as to how AQSIQ, CCIC, CIQ, MEPC and Customs do their work and cooperate with each other, the enterprises’ operation systems and goods inspection standards cannot meet the requirements of those Chinese agencies.
Fourth, during the official process of confirming the ISO9001 licence and operation system with ISO institutes, many problems emerge, which often cause the application to grind to a halt.
Fifth, even if the AQSIQ licence is obtained, it still could be a difficult step to receive the original AQSIQ licence and USB (universal serial bus) key, as a few countries do not allow such devices to enter their countries. As well, some enterprises do not know how to use the USB key after receiving it. These are all very practical problems.
Last but not least, Chinese officials will pay a random inspection visit to the enterprises after they obtain an AQSIQ licence, which can lead to potential problems for foreign suppliers.
RT: How can working with a consultant such as K&C International benefit a recycling company?
SD: K&C International Consulting has a rich depth of experience and is an authoritative AQSIQ application consulting agency that understands China. We can provide European and American companies with correct information on laws and regulations, detailed requirements on application documents and procedures and help them avoid detours in the AQSIQ licence application process. Meanwhile, K&C International guarantees that all clients will obtain an AQSIQ licence and all customers will receive convenient, fast and guaranteed services.
RT: What are examples of why a company would seek changes to its AQSIQ licence?
SD: When a company changes its company name, legal representative, registered address or office address, the company needs to submit an application regarding such changes to the AQSIQ office. This is because during the valid time the company is responsible to keep all information on the licence correct and in effect. It should be noted that the company name and legal representative cannot be both changed on one licence. If they are both changed, you will need to apply for a new licence. To add a new item to the scope of business is also considered as a change. For example, if there is only plastic scrap listed on the AQSIQ licence and the company wants to add scrap metal, a change application will be required.
RT: How can K&C International help a recycling company maintain its AQSIQ licence during the three-year licence period?
SD: As we’ve mentioned, in order to maintain an AQSIQ licence within its valid time, foreign suppliers need to keep all information on the AQSIQ licence correct and effective. No matter which kind of changes they are coming across, K&C International can assist them with all these changes. As well, if a company is going through an on-site assessment by Chinese officials, we will provide professional instruction and training, prepare and perfect relevant documents, arrange the whole contingency procedure and assist the company to pass the assessment.
When a company is ordered to rectify itself due to the return of cargoes, we will assist the company in the rectification and remove the threat to its AQSIQ licence caused by the return of cargoes. And if a supplier is attacked or reported maliciously by its competitor, we will help the supplier clear the air. We will assist companies applying for the renewal of an AQSIQ licence to make it always valid. These four aspects are important tasks K&C International can perform for companies.
RT: Have there been important changes you can describe regarding recycling-related AQSIQ licencing in 2013 or 2014?
SD: In 2013, there was no change in the licencing policies. However, because of the “Green Fence” launched by China Customs, many companies are facing difficulties in their businesses. As the Chinese government is paying more and more attention to environmental protection, we think it will not choose to issue AQSIQ licences without limitations.
Therefore, it is vitally important for all suppliers to keep their AQSIQ licences effective.”