BIR Global eForum: International Environment Council: Recycling industry is strategic, essential and intrinsically resource-efficient
In a wide-ranging review of legislative developments affecting the recycling industry, BIR Trade & Environment Director Ross Bartley opened the first-ever International Environment Council (IEC) eForum by stressing the importance of efforts to ensure that mechanical recycling remained rooted in the definition of recycling, which was currently being debated within the United Nations’ Basel Convention.
Also during the session, taking place on June 5 under the chairmanship of Olivier François of Galloo, Mr Bartley underlined the need to clarify the meaning of listings applying to a new Basel Convention regime for plastics wastes, which is scheduled to come into effect on January 1 2021.
The IEC eForum coincided with the launch of an International Atomic Energy Agency e-learning tool covering the control of radioactive material inadvertently incorporated into scrap metal (see BIR news item dated June 5 2020). Later this year, said Mr Bartley, BIR intended to host a “virtual meeting” for those metal recycling company experts with responsibility for the control of radioactive material in scrap.
Mr Bartley also tackled the waste/chemical interface highlighted by the United Nations’ Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), arguing that the world recycling association could not support any derogations for manufacturers and users to continue to incorporate prohibited chemicals into products unless those same manufacturers and users were prepared to bear the full costs of the environmentally sound management of the wastes arising. “Derogations push problems into the future and burden recyclers over many decades,” he explained.
According to guest speaker Emmanuel Katrakis, Secretary General of the European Recycling Industries’ Confederation (EuRIC), his organization’s position was that any chemical substance prohibited under the Stockholm Convention should not be allowed at the product design stage if this had the potential to compromise recyclability by triggering the reclassification of an entire waste stream.
On a positive note, Mr Katrakis praised the European Commission’s new Circular Economy Action Plan, published on March 11 this year, for providing “a clear signal that forthcoming legislation should include not only recycling targets but also recycled content targets to stimulate the demand for recycling”. He perceived “a lot of appetite for incentives for recycling”, to which IEC Chairman Mr François added that there was a growing appreciation among governmental authorities of the CO2 emission savings achieved through the use of recycled materials. “It’s really gaining momentum,” he said.
The presentation from Mr Katrakis also confirmed that the Circular Economy and a 2050 target for carbon neutrality formed key pillars of the European Commission’s “Green Deal” launched in December last year.
Noting that the IEC eForum coincided with World Environment Day, Mr Katrakis said this provided an important opportunity to trumpet the diverse, positive contribution made by recyclers. “We are a strategic industry,” he declared. “We are essential for society. We have seen that during the COVID crisis. We are intrinsically resource-efficient; we are climate- and energy-friendly.”
In another guest presentation, Joe Pickard, Chief Economist & Director of Commodities at the US Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), insisted: “There has never been a more pressing need for global specifications to help promote recycling. ISRI would like to invite all interested stakeholders to collaboratively work on recycling standards and specifications to promote the recycling industry and the economic, environmental and trade benefits generated by recycling.”
When ISRI embarked on establishing specifications many years ago, this had been solely to assist the buying and selling of recycled materials. However, their importance had expanded as supply chains became more inter-connected and as government agencies increasingly sought guidance on how to regulate the recycling sector and to categorize recycled commodities, said Mr Pickard.
Following the three presentations, there was a discussion of the role of pre-shipment control for international trade in recycled materials. Organized via third-party auditing, along the lines of the AQSIQ model, there were costs involved but this approach could bring about safer transboundary shipments for all of the different actors in the chain, namely recycled material producers, customs, environmental authorities and customers.
Also discussed was the possibility that the problem of further regulation of chemical substances in end-of-life products could motivate manufacturers to take more direct control of their waste management responsibilities. This was a possible collateral effect of the extended producer responsibility obligation that seemed to be observed in the case of car manufacturers at present. It was necessary, therefore, to monitor this as regulations continued to tighten the constraints applied to the producers of goods. There was always a balance to be struck between internalization and outsourcing, particularly where waste was concerned, and so a tipping point might have been reached.