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Coronavirus update by BIR Ambassadors: Critical work of recycling industry recognized in many parts of world

  • 24 March 2020
  • BIR

At this unprecedented time as the world adopts severe and wide-ranging measures in a bid to arrest the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, BIR Ambassadors* have volunteered to provide our members with ad hoc updates from their respective countries and regions.

In the USA, the situation varies from state to state. The most populous of these, California, has shut down all non-essential industries but scrap recycling is considered to be essential as it is an important link in the supply chain. However, business is very slow; it is possible to buy and to sell but exporting is very tough, with no availability of containers.

In Europe, Italy is closing down smelters as part of its bid to control the pandemic by shutting all non-essential companies. Owing to a shortage of workers in France, most small to medium-sized businesses are closed. Large enterprises are partially open, with only 40% of yards in operation. While there is no more retail business, they are being supplied by those production plants still in operation. However, there is a question over how long this will continue.

Following an announcement on the evening of March 23, people in the UK have been told not to leave their homes other than for essential reasons such as food shopping. Scrap has been included in the category of critical industries and large merchants saw a flurry of activity last week, mainly as a result of their smaller counterparts wanting to turn stock into money. Some merchants have closed their doors.

Following two days of complete lockdown in Saudi Arabia, there has been a shift to stringent measures being applied to scrap yards between 7am and 6pm, with a curfew in place for the intervening hours. Factories and ports are still open.

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), meanwhile, yards in Sharjah are still in operation but business is slow for both ferrous and non-ferrous metals. Local mills are making it tough in terms of both taking deliveries and on payments, while export activity is minimal as the buyers are not there. Even Korean and Malaysian buyers, who previously had always made payments on time, have now requested delays.

Yards are closed in Kuwait and in Lebanon, although the latter’s ports are still open. For the Middle East in general, policy changes are coming along every day, building up the uncertainty over April deliveries and supplies worldwide.

The word used to describe the situation in India is “panic”. Mumbai is in total lockdown and nobody can leave their homes in many parts of Gujarat; the government has announced a raft of closures, including stopping trains up to March 31 which is almost like a curfew. Pakistan, meanwhile, is in partial lockdown and yards are not working as normal.

There is no official lockdown in Singapore and, technically speaking, scrap yards are open for business. This is not the case in practice, however, because the majority of workers are either Chinese who haven’t returned since the Chinese New Year holidays or Malaysians who can’t return because of border closures. There is also massive logistical disruption to container shipments.

Malaysia is effectively in lockdown regarding import cargoes, with only essential goods permitted. With scrap metals not categorized as essential, their importation is not being allowed at present.

*Please note that the above reports represent the personal views of their authors and have only reference value. Also, by the time the report is published, some conditions might already have changed.