The Ferrous Division of the Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) and its Statistics Advisor Rolf Willeke gather global steel production, recycling and trade statistics.

At the BIR’s 2016 World Recycling Convention in Berlin in late May and early June, the Ferrous Division released the seventh edition of its “World Steel Recycling in Figures,” which includes statistics for 2011 through 2015.

Willeke and the BIR again can be congratulated for compiling an impressive collection of statistics that provide more than a mere snapshot of the global steel and ferrous scrap industries.

Recyclers, however, may be in less of a congratulatory mood when they review many of the trade and production figures for 2015, the most recent year added to the compendium.

Global steel production was down overall in 2015 compared with the year before, with the scrap-intensive electric arc furnace (EAF) steelmaking method facing a decline greater than the overall average.

Perhaps more worrisome for recyclers, who have benefitted from an active and growing global scrap market the past 15 years, most statistics that measure the health of the global ferrous scrap industry point to a yearly, step-by-step decline in this sector.

As Willeke points out in his introduction to the booklet (which can be downloaded at www.bir.org), 5.1% percent less ferrous scrap was melted in 2015 compared with 2014, and the amount of ferrous scrap traded across international borders fell by 13.1%.

The ramping up of basic materials production and consumption in China during the 1990s and 2000s created historic conditions for recyclers.”

Comprehensive statistics of this nature are not as readily available for global aluminium, copper, cardboard or plastic scrap trading, but figures collected by national bureaus and agencies often point to similar drop-offs.

Economic activity is cyclical, and business trends can and do get reversed all the time. However, analysts who study secondary and primary raw materials likely would see this as another sign of the end of the commodities “super cycle” that predominated in the first 10 to 12 years of this century.

That super cycle was largely tied to the rapid industrialisation and urbanisation of China and its 1.3 billion people. The ramping up of basic materials production and consumption in China during the 1990s and 2000s created historic conditions for recyclers.

The end of this cycle doesn’t necessarily mean the recycling industry is entering an era of long-term decline. What one could conclude, however, is that it is moving from a phase of abundant opportunities to a phase of more selective opportunities. Ideally, that continues to provide a niche for Recycling Today Media Group information services and events as a way to identify the correct business targets.