Malaysian ports hold scrap cargoes following waste processing inspections; copper scrap diverted

Massive amounts of scrap metal are being held at Malaysian ports for unprecedented inspections and multiple copper cargoes still at sea are being diverted to other Asian countries at big discounts, sources told Fastmarkets.

The bulk of the cargoes comprise insulated copper wires (ICW), as well as scrap motors, a Malaysian copper scrap buyer said. This type of copper scrap typically comes with a plastic coating, called plastic stripping, and would require import licenses for entrance to Malaysia.

The Malaysian Ministry of Energy, Science, Environment & Climate Change (MESTECC) said it opened containers of ICW and scrap motors in Port Klang which contain copper and aluminium on April 23. Cargoes arriving at the ports have been seized since then. It is unclear what volumes of cargo are currently held at the ports.

“Last Friday, we received a notice from Malaysian copper scrap suppliers saying that a large number of containers with copper scrap that were originally allowed in are now being rejected,” the buyer source said.

“The Malaysian government is not offering clear directives on the metal waste processing policy now and nobody knows whether these ICW can still get in or not,” the source added.

The supplier said it is now suggesting to buyers to change the consignee or the destination port “if possible”.

“It is the same old problem - plastic waste processing. Too many firms are importing [plastic waste] without licenses and the plastic processing plants also are illegal too. If the laws are being enforced strictly now, cargoes delivered to illegal yards will be rejected,” an Asia-based scrap trader said.

Many plastic scrap yards which process plastic stripping on copper wires are operating illegally, the ministry said. Almost half of the 300 plastic scrap plants inspected during a nationwide campaign have been closed down since early April, according to a notice by MESTECC.

Those who have bought scrap held at the ports are having to pay for cargoes held at the ports and are now looking at how to avoid sending further material to Malaysia.

“We will have to pay the shipping company 300 Malaysian ringgit [$71] every day for one trapped container,” the scrap trader source said. “It makes a lot more sense for us to divert them.”

Some trapped copper scrap cargoes have been sold at a discount of $80 per tonne, or 3.6 cents per lb on top of the original discount, the first source said.

Yet the exact discount depends on the quality of the ICW scrap with copper content ranging from 50% to 75%, the source added.

Malaysia has been a major export destination of lower-grade copper scrap since China implemented a strict quota system in 2018 to curb its inflow and eventually a complete ban starting this year.

For the first three months this year, Malaysia has been the second most popular destination for US copper scrap exports with a total worth of $103.24 million.

But the Southeast Asian country has been fighting to avoid being a dumping ground for scrap rejected by China.

ICW and scrap vehicles are both categorized as category 7 scrap imports, which require further dismantling that could involve incineration of plastic and the release of toxic materials into the soil.

Some of the end products, such as category 6 scrap and copper ingots, are then exported to other countries including China.

Fastmarkets assessed the discount for No 2 copper scrap, birch and cliff as rising to 37-42 cents per lb on April 29, versus 32-38 cents per lb a month ago, on surging availability and hesitant buying ahead of temporary halt in Chinese imports in July.

The trapped cargoes of low-quality scrap could lead to lower supply of processed scrap from Malaysia to other countries.

“Most people in our industry did not expect this Malaysian betrayal coming. I heard that some of the scrap dismantlers in the country already gave up on importing and the Singaporean side of the Malaysian port had started restricting ICW scrap,” an industry source said.

A sensible diversion destination of the scrap cargoes is Japan, a scrap trader source in that country told Fastmarkets.

“In Japan, many people installed ICW chopping machines last year, but due to great appetite in Malaysia, there wasn’t too many supply of ICW and most machines stayed idle,” a Japan-based scrap trader source said.

“In March, there were approximately 13,000 tonnes of ICW shipped to Malaysia from Japan. Maybe some of these cargoes will have to shipped back,” the source added.

Additional reporting by Archie Hunter.

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