The scrap metal issue: Reprocessing of genuine metal waste into valuable product

Depending on which report you read each of them predicts that the metal recycling market is expected to witness market growth at various rates. The point is that they all predict growth because of the increase in demand for the product for various industrial applications is escalating. The increase in the urbanisation and industrialisation across the globe acts as one of the major factors driving the growth of the metal recycling market.

With this demand comes an increase in prices and pressure to supply. There are even proposals that aim to treat waste, including scrap metal, as a resource in some countries. Additionally, the rise in environmental concerns, the surge in investments, the rise in awareness and presence, the rise in unemployment, the rise in lawlessness – as is the case in South Africa – are all having an effect on scrap metal recycling, some to the detriment of the economy.

Metal recycling is described as the reprocessing of metal waste into valuable product. The process is done in order to decline greenhouse gas emission levels, manage energy consumption and preserve natural resources. Most countries have awareness programmes for sustainable waste management practices that positively affect the metal recycling market. Most countries also have organised systems for collecting, recording and analysing scrap metal collection and recycling. They also have policing policies that everybody abides by – collectors, recyclers and end users alike.

In the European Union they even go as far as to propose revised legislation on waste shipments including steel and non-ferrous scrap, whereby scrap metal exports to other countries will be allowable only if they can manage these sustainably. Under the proposal, all EU companies that export waste outside the bloc should ensure that the facilities receiving their waste are subject to an independent audit showing they manage the waste in an environmentally sound manner.

However, stringent regulations affecting free and fair trade of scrap metal, and unorganised metal waste collection in developing countries are expected to obstruct the market growth. The recycling difficulties due to the complexity of products, and issues with management of supply chain are projected to challenge the metal recycling market, they say.

The challenge for South Africa though is the collection of scrap that is not legally regarded as scrap but rather infrastructure that is still in perfect operational order. The cost to the country is enormous and I am sure not quantifiable.

The theft of metal – which is in part driven by a surging global demand for copper scrap largely due to tight supplies and low inventories are pushing prices to record highs – has become a huge headache for the state and a serious threat to economic recovery. It has led to a call from two government ministers that government should consider a temporary ban on the sale of scrap metal, which obviously would be met with resistance.

“The criminality behind the rampant theft and vandalism of railway infrastructure that has stripped bare our stations and rail network requires extraordinary interventions that go beyond merely stepping up security,” said transport minister Fikile Mbalula.

But Mr Minister you previously served as both Minister and Deputy Minister of Police so why did you not do anything about the theft of metal when you served in these positions. And why are you appealing now for action, through public platforms, when you have a long serving member of government, like you are, as the current minister of Police. Surely these gripes of yours would be addressed at the high-level that they should be.

Besides as SA Metal Group Director Graham Barnett said, a ban on the selling of scrap metal would result in steel mills, foundries, copper mills, aluminium mills and other factories that use scrap metal to manufacture products for the domestic and export markets having to cease operations. And low and behold scrap metal recycling companies that supply such factories would also have to close down.