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Copper scrap proposal disappointing: BIR

Keywords: Tags  BIR, Bureau of International Recycling, copper scrap, BMRA, British Metals Recycling Association, Europe, European Union, Francis Veys Ian Hetherington


LONDON — The European Commission’s proposal to categorize copper scrap as waste unless it is at least 98-percent pure copper represents a missed opportunity to reduce the administrative burden of treating and trading scrap in the European Union, according to scrap processors and traders.

But it is a victory for secondary producers who believe, rightly or wrongly, that a looser threshold would lead to a surge in scrap exports from the region.

For the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), Brussels, and the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA), Brampton, England, the decision to recommend a 2-percent foreign materials limit vs. the 5-percent threshold they had lobbied for is maddening and, according to BIR estimates, will mean that about 90 to 95 percent of the copper scrap processed by members and trade will continue to be classified as waste.

Both the BIR and BMRA welcome the principle of the new end-of-waste directive but bemoan its impractical stringency, they told AMM sister publication Metal Bulletin this past week.

"The BIR has always felt that material that leaves the scrapyard after being processed should be treated as a non-waste material. We are very happy to see that at last, at an E.U. level, the authorities have accepted this principle," BIR director-general Francis Veys said. "But, nevertheless, we find the recommendation on copper scrap unexciting because this 2-percent requirement is absolutely not realistic. We’re happy with the principle, but disappointed with the percentage. ... It’s a missed opportunity."

The recycling associations have been heavily involved in the technical working group that has guided the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre in creating the proposed directive, but since the first meeting of the group in 2010 their calls for a 5-percent tolerance have been resisted by scrap consumers in Europe.

During two meetings at the Seville offices of the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) in 2010, each side argued for outcomes that were diametrically opposed: the associations hoped, ideally, that the designation of scrap as waste would end and, at the least, that the directive would remove that classification for the high-value forms of scrap they commonly trade.

By contrast, scrap consumers would ideally have preferred that all—even the purest—forms of scrap would continue to be treated as waste, and expressed strong resistance to proposals to upturn this status quo.

"It’s no secret that there has been a degree of resistance to the principles of end-of-waste from some producer, or scrap consumer, groups. In my mind their fears are misplaced, but it appears they have lobbied effectively to establish the threshold at 2 percent," BMRA director-general Ian Hetherington told Metal Bulletin.

"The reason for smelters to want a high threshold is that, as users of raw materials, they have every interest in it continuing to be called waste because it gives them better visibility over where the material comes from and they feel it will prevent the movement of ‘waste’ out of Europe, which is pure paranoia," Veys said.

"It’s interesting that the glass industry, which has engaged much more with the principle of end-of-waste regulations, has looked at a lower threshold. If you bear in mind that this is environmental legislation, it seems strange to me that glass would need to meet a lower threshold for foreign materials than copper scrap," Hetherington added.

In its earlier ruling on end-of-waste criteria for aluminum scrap, the commission decided on a 5-percent threshold, apparently without great objection from European secondary producers.

With such precedents in place, the decision to back a 2-percent limit for copper scrap has prompted organizations like the BIR to level some highly charged complaints against the commission and European recyclers.

"The copper industry in Europe is very much protectionist in nature," Veys said.

"In aluminum or steel, a 5-percent threshold was viewed as acceptable because structurally production capacity in Europe is declining. But with copper, we know that even at the first meeting in Seville the industry was questioning the whole principle of end-of-waste copper scrap," he said.

"They were opposed to it because they thought they would lose raw materials to export markets, which isn’t true. Material will continue to leave Europe, whether it’s called waste or a product, because that’s where the demand is and because there are not enough smelting capacities in the E.U. It is more difficult if it is called waste, but it will continue to move because it is a commodity," Veys said.

The proposed proposal has also drawn flak from European metals trade and recycling federation Eurometrec, which has called the 2-percent limit "totally unrealistic" and has lobbied for the foreign material tolerance to be raised to 5 percent of total scrap weight (amm.com, Jan. 18).

A version of this article was first published by AMM sister publication Metal Bulletin.


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