In the age of going green, the recycling business is booming.
This week, the World Recycling Convention drew hundreds of recyclers, traders and engineers as well as various experts in the world of steel, plastics and even end-of-life tires (which organizers spelled tyre) to the ritzy Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach for the Bureau of International Recycling’s annual convention.
In between “plenary meetings” in the Sparkle room and lunch in the Fontaine and Fleur de Lis ballroom, representatives from about 50 countries talked about the “realities of dealing with residential mixed plastics” in New York City and other matters like virgin fiber.
They also learned that things are looking up for scrap metal.
“There’s a feel-good factor to being in the recycling business that we never had before,” said Simon Merills, a Scotsman and CEO of ELG Metals, Inc., a leading processor of scrap and other metals including nickel and tungsten carbide in Pittsburgh. “Before we were described as gypsies and thieves, and now we’re saving the planet.”
Over the next 30 years, reclaimed scrap is expected to grow 30 percent, Merills told a room of 100-plus participants, some listening to his speech in translation via headsets. Last year, the BIR calculated steel scrap usage in world steel production rose almost 2 percent from 2012 to 580 million metric tons. Part of that rise comes from the ability to blend discounted nickel in stainless steel. Processors started blending in the 1980s and have gradually increased blends as it became cheaper, said Paul Gielen, sales director for Germany’s Cronimet Europe, a global recycling company.
The Chinese, in particular, have increased blending of nickel pig iron, a cheap nickel made of low-grade nickel ore cooked in a blast furnace and considered toxic to the environment, he said.
The increasing world demand for stainless steel with low-grade or no nickel will also influence what’s coming to recyclers, said Barry Hunter, president of New Jersey-based Hunter Alloys.
Buyers typically look for stainless steel that is 18 percent chrome and 8 percent nickel. As that changes, recyclers will have to be on the lookout for what goes into their mix. And the demand for stainless steel is only driving up the need for scrap.
“I never thought I’d see containers of steel and the import of scrap,” Hunter said.
“We need to make it out of something. If you make chicken soup, you need chicken.”