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Recyclers and traders who gathered for the 2016 Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) World Recycling Convention in Berlin in late May and early June discussed a scrap market that had been volatile and hard to predict in the preceding months.

Peaks and troughs in metals pricing in particular were the focus of several of the convention’s division and committee meetings, while international trade and safety issues also received attention.

The several hundred recyclers who assembled for the event heard reports on a sector that still has optimistic long-term prospects but that may continue to struggle in the near term.

EXPLOSIVE ISSUES

Ferrous scrap processors may have appreciated increased scrap flows and pricing in April and May 2016, but the president of the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) Ferrous Division has asked whether the price spike was boosted by investors in Shanghai. William Schmiedel of Sims Metal Management raised the question at the BIR event in late May.

He noted that on the day of April 21, 2016, contracts for 220 million tons of steel rebar were traded on the Shanghai Futures Exchange (SHFE)—more than China’s annual production of rebar.

As has long been in the case on the nonferrous side of the scrap recycling business, Schmiedel commented that speculation may now be “something we will have to contend with” in the ferrous scrap sector. (For more on the Ferrous Division Meeting, see the Ferrous Market Report starting on page 10 of this issue.)

Shredder Committee presenters at the BIR event gave an overview of new technologies, provided an update on the status of an effort to establish best practices and gave a warning of the hazards of air bags in the feedstock stream.

George Adams Jr. of USA-based SA Recycling said his firm suffered an injury-causing explosion of an air bag on a picking line in early 2013. He said pickers at an Arizona shredding plant “saw sizzling and sparks on the belt, and before they could do anything [an automobile air bag] exploded.”

Adams said the widespread use of air bags, while it has been good for driver and passenger safety, has presented “a dangerous situation” for auto shredding operations. He said some newer car models “have as many as 30 air bags in them,” adding, “It is becoming a bigger issue because cars have more and more air bags.”

The California-based recycler showed a photo of two cylinder-shaped air bag units commonly used in German automobile makes and models. “They look kind of like a pipe bomb,” Adams said, noting that employee witness statements used that same comparison.

“All of us have to be careful,” he said of shredder operators in the United States, which he says does not have a national requirement for dismantlers or car owners to remove air bags before end-of-life vehicles are taken to shredding plants. While an air bag explosion in the shredding chamber can be loud and disruptive, the danger is particularly acute on picking lines if air bags make it through the shredding chamber without deploying.

Adams showed a photograph of how his pickers must now be outfitted, with a face shield and bulky puncture-resistant vest, after a worker suffered two broken ribs and a punctured lung from shrapnel sent flying by the exploding airbag in the Arizona incident.

Shredder Committee Chair Manuel Burnand of FEDEREC (a French recycling federation) provided an update on the shredder plant portion of the best available techniques reference (BREF) document, designed to create best practices to help shredder operators meet dust and water emissions control requirements in the European Union.

He said FEDEREC helped collect information from a large number of shredder operators in Europe, providing a more realistic portrayal of current operations and benchmarks.

Scott Newell III of USA-based Newell Recycling Equipment said auto shredders and downstream systems have continued to automate and to provide more thorough separation of materials.

He said shredder monitoring systems have helped plant operators know exactly what they are doing right and also where problems need to be addressed.

For downstream sorting, Newell said the Metal Loss Monitor from United States-based Eriez assesses the amount of metal in auto shredder residue (ASR) that is about to be disposed of. “This allows the operator to be alerted that there is some type of [improper] condition,” Newell said. “If an adjustment can be made that rectifies a problem within minutes rather than hours or even days, the benefits are great.”

BREAKING BARRIERS

The proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) is facing criticism and delays, but the pact “could yield substantial economic benefit” to the nations involved, according to a guest speaker at the BIR’s International Trade Council Meeting.

Christian Bluth, a project manager with the Germany-based Bertelsmann Stiftung (Foundation), said the basic materials and recycling sectors would benefit from T-TIP, citing goals to reduce tariffs and regulatory compliance costs in basic materials and equipment exporting and importing.

While T-TIP has the backing of top-level officials in the U.S. and in the EU, it has been met with rising scepticism by some voters and elected officials on both sides of the Atlantic.

“Germans are concerned about potential effects of regulatory change—that standards will be lowered,” Bluth said. In the U.S., meanwhile, “they fear a loss of jobs,” he added.

Bluth said President Obama has promised “to put his political will behind it, but is that enough?”

On the other side of the Atlantic, T-TIP must be ratified not only by the EU but also by each of its member nations.

Also speaking at the International Trade Council Meeting was Dale Didion of AKUA, a USA-based supplier of devices to detect and report cargo container tampering. He said some AKUA devices can be mounted on the outside of cargo containers to detect lock tampering and others can be mounted inside to detect light level or temperature changes.

The 2016 BIR World Recycling Convention was 29 May to 1 June at the InterContinental Hotel in Berlin.

The author is the editor of Recycling Today Global Edition and can be contacted at btaylor@gie.net.