Shipping, ports a concern for recyclers

Industry associations connect with various governments to ensure recyclables still move.

Port with shipping containers

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

The recycling industry faces some questions and challenges surrounding exports and shipping amid the COVID-19 pandemic this spring. Industry associations, including the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), Brussels, and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington, say they are looking into these issues for their members.

According to a news release from the BIR, the association has been connecting with various governments and port authorities to ensure that containers of recyclables keep moving and aren’t stuck at ports. 

“BIR has contacted most all of the industrialized countries where the bulk of international trade in recyclables occurs with the message to regard recycling as an essential activity and to keep recyclables moving in trade,” says Ross Bartley, BIR trade and environment director. “BIR has made great efforts with certain developing countries, notably India. There are many developing countries still to contact, so BIR continues in its drafting of best advice in coordination with its members around the world.”

BIR reports that it has reached out to governments, shipping lines and their international organizations as well as to port authorities asking them to support the recycling industry’s request to wave costs and fees on containers stuck in ports because of government shutdowns as well as ground charges for stuck containers. 

Adina Renee Adler, assistant vice president of international affairs at ISRI, says the U.S. association has been working with BIR, the Canadian Association of Recycling Industries (CARI) and others to ensure recyclables keep moving.

“Because the U.S. was one of the earliest regions to declare our recycling industry essential, we shared our talking points with our counterparts across the world through BIR to aid in whatever advocacy they could do to ensure other governments declare recycling essential.”

Although the recycling industry is concerned by shipping challenges and potential port closures arising from COVID-19, neither BIR nor ISRI know of specific port closures yet. 

Adler says she is not aware of any port closures; however, she says exporting to nations that don’t deem recycling an essential service is more challenging. She says the most issues are in India, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, as India and some nations in those two other regions have not deemed recycling an essential service during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Ports are remaining open because you have to allow for essential goods to get through,” she says. “What may be happening is it might be slower to get scrap materials cleared. Recycling operations in India, the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia are closed, so they cannot retrieve containers, which means they are facing storage fees in some cases.” 

Recycling Today also has connected with a couple of recyclers and brokers on this issue. A broker who handles mostly recovered fiber and is based in the southern U.S. says getting containers for export at some U.S. ports has been challenging, as well. He says container availability is “good in some areas and not good in others.”

Another broker on the East Coast reports that some U.S. ports are restricting hours and days of operation because of COVID-19, as well. 

For instance, the Port of Baltimore is open, but the Ports America Chesapeake company that operates the Seagirt Marine Terminal at that port closed Seagirt April 8 and April 10 because of declining international container volumes. 

According to a news release from the Port of Long Beach in California, that port felt the economic effects of COVID-19 in March “with more canceled sailings and a decline in cargo containers shipped” through the seaport. 

“The coronavirus is delivering a shock to the supply chain that continues to ripple across the national economy,” says Mario Cordero, executive director of the Port of Long Beach. “We’re definitely seeing a reduction in the flow of cargo at San Pedro Bay, but the ports remain open and operating, and we are maintaining business continuity.”

Bartley of BIR says the current situation with shipping is not unlike what the industries experienced during the financial crisis a little over a decade ago. 

“There are similarities under the lockdown conditions forced by COVID-19 as stockpiling of recyclables in industry and in homes will continue,” he says. “With that past experience, BIR quickly promoted the necessity to keep moving recyclables, noting nearly all governments in the world use the word ‘waste,’ for example, the European Commission recognized the need for shipments of wastes to circulate within the EU and provided guidance to that effect.” 

BIR also is promoting the implementation of “green lanes” to expedite trade in goods, including recyclables. 

“BIR advocates that all countries regard recycling as an essential activity and keep recyclables moving across borders,” Bartley says. “Using the term ‘green lanes’ refers to [a] simplified border crossing routine.” 

Although shipping conditions are challenged in some parts of the world, Adler says things are moving more smoothly across North American borders.

“As far as we at ISRI know, scrap cargo is still going between both the Mexico and Canada borders,” she says. “There is a decline in the number of people and cargo going across borders, but I don’t know that there is any kind of major disruption.”

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