Crunch time coming for talks on EU metal scrap export restrictions

Looming changes in the regulatory environment could have a significant effect on EU metal scrap exporters, panelists said at last week’s Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) conference in Dubai

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee will vote on a proposed overhaul of the EU’s Waste Shipment Regulation (WSR) later this year, which could eventually restrict the export of lower-grade recycled ferrous and non-ferrous metals from the bloc.

At the same time, talks are underway over whether the EU will expand its definition of waste to cover more e-scrap items, which could muzzle European exports of e-waste, panelists said at the event on Tuesday, October 18.

Pressure ramps up in WSR battle

Talks and lobbying are reaching fever pitch ahead of important EU votes on the WSR, according to Emmanuel Katrakis, secretary general of the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC).

“We are in the middle of the battle - let’s put it like that. We are now working with members of the European Parliament over so-called compromise amendments,” he said on October 17.

It will likely take until mid-way through 2023 to arrive at a compromise agreement over the wording of the new WSR. A three-year transition period will likely be applied before the new rules on export restrictions come into force, he added.

It was previously believed that the WSR would only affect EU exports of scrap metal classified as waste from EU countries to fellow Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. But Katrakis said that lobbies of some scrap consumers in Europe were pushing for the EU regulation to go further.

“Our customers are doing a very strong lobby to delete the distinction between OECD and non-OECD countries and switch the lights off [on scrap exports]. Not only are we completely against this, it would be illegal,” Katrakis said.

Lower-grade scrap exports could be hurt

Much lobbying is still to come on the issue, but Denis Reuter, chief operating officer at Germany’s TSR Recycling and ferrous board president, said at the BIR Dubai ferrous session that he believed there would eventually be tougher rules on the export of lower-grade metal scrap from the EU.

“It will be very, very difficult to get them off the track that they are on in EU lawmaking. I think we will see restrictions on exports, but to what extent remains to be seen. The lobbying from the steel industry in Europe has been very heavy to say the least,” he said.

As EU law stands, recyclers would still be able to export very high-grade scrap, such as clean copper candy/berry and steel busheling, under the EU’s end-of-waste regime, subject to a rigorous audit.

But for lower-grade scrap exports, the future is likely to be more bleak, according to Reuter.

“For heavy melting steel, I don’t see any opportunity to get it around the restrictions. For shredded, if it is a clean shredded quality, there may be possibilities for exports in the future and of course for qualities like busheling, there should not be any problem in the EU,” he added.

Dramatic consequences

In the case that some exports from Europe are restricted to both OECD and non-OECD countries by the new WSR, that could potentially lead to major steel scrap importers, such as Turkey, India and Bangladesh, being cut off from EU HMS, sources said on the sidelines.

The measures would likely reduce European scrap prices in the short term, attendees said, but some warned of dramatic long-term consequences to such a policy.

Choking off scrap exports could mean that recyclers in the EU may reduce their operations and collection volumes if it becomes uneconomical to carry out some of their business, Olivier Francois, market development officer at Belgian recyclers Galloo, said.

This could lead to a rise in cars being abandoned in European fields if it makes little economic sense to process the material, he added.

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