Recycled metals belong in the raw materials club

By Kilian Schwaiger and Murat Bayram
Kilian Schwaiger (left) is Managing Director at the Association of German Metal Traders and Recyclers (VDM). Murat Bayram is Managing Director at EMR European Metal Recycling GmbH.

If the EU and the USA have their way, a raw materials club should bring together Western countries and resource-rich countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa to enable raw materials partnerships on an equal footing. Under discussion is whether governments can waive export restrictions or tariffs in mutual trade in mineral resources, and whether common environmental and occupational safety standards can be established for mines or smelters. In short, mutual recognition is to be promoted in the interests of international trade.

Metal scrap as the key to green lead markets

In this discussion, the scrap metal trade must be taken into account. Trade in recycled metals is an integral part of establishing green lead markets, as the use of recycled materials is a necessary prerequisite for the production of green products. The use of recycled metals such as aluminum, copper or steel saves energy and greenhouse gas emissions and reduces the consumption of ores.

It is important to emphasize that fair and free trade in scrap should not be the preserve of industrialized countries alone. Emerging countries have the same right to access recycled metals. This access will enable them to build their own sustainable industries and reap the benefits of recycling for their economies and the environment.

At the meeting of the Material Recycling Association of India, the Indian steel minister emphasized that India, as the world’s second-largest steel producer, wanted to become a responsible steel producer and therefore expected scrap use to increase. India sources the material from the USA and the EU, among others.

The more capacity, the more recycling

This brings us to the crucial point. Trade on an equal footing means that we always supply raw materials to where they are needed. Turkey is an important sales market for certain grades of steel scrap, India for certain alloys of aluminum scrap, and the USA for nickel scrap. Conversely, countries like India are important exporters of ferroalloys to the EU, which we need here for steel production.

Trade in metals is not a one-way street. If we want to import raw materials from the global South, we must also export raw materials there. “Close the loop does not mean close the market. Especially not if the necessary processing capacities are lacking in this country to use all the processed metals. The formula for an international circular economy is simple: the more capacity, the more recycling”.

Reducing trade barriers

There are already eight billion of us on the planet today. If we want to enable everyone to enjoy a certain level of prosperity, we must include countries like India, Pakistan, Malaysia or Thailand in our trade structures. This means recognizing common environmental and labor standards and thus minimizing import and export restrictions. The EU Waste Shipment Regulation currently under discussion increases trade barriers for scrap metal, something the Association of German Metal Traders and Recyclers criticized as early as 2021.

It is therefore all the more important that future raw material clubs take into account the international markets of the metal recycling industry and maintain and promote mutual market access. Metal scrap belongs “in da club”.


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