This latest edition, covering the five-year period from 2018 to 2022, is also the first to enshrine a significant change in terminology agreed by the BIR Ferrous Division board: henceforth, the word “scrap” is to be replaced with “recycled steel” in its reports and publications. As divisional Statistics Advisor Rolf Willeke underlined to delegates in Amsterdam, a key aim of the change is “to resonate even more effectively with the public and policy-makers”.
In reviewing some of the publication’s key statistical findings for 2022, Mr Willeke noted that China had remained safe in its position as the world’s largest recycled steel user despite a 4.8% drop in its consumption to 215.31 million tonnes. A similar story applied to Turkey, which continued to be the world’s top recycled steel importer last year even though it recorded a 16.5% decline in its overseas purchases to 20.876 million tonnes. And to complete the pattern, the EU-27 maintained its position as the world’s leading recycled steel exporter in 2022 despite its outbound shipments sliding 9.4% year on year to 17.596 million tonnes.
The Ferrous Division meeting in Amsterdam also shone a light on a topic of crucial significance not only to the recycled steel sector but also to the recycling industry as a whole, namely energy costs. In a guest presentation from Ole Rolser, leader of the Global Energy Perspective team at McKinsey & Company in the Netherlands, it was noted that Europe’s spend on oil, gas and coal increased from 4% to 10% of GDP last year and that this expenditure would remain elevated “for the foreseeable future”. He attributed “record-high” global gas prices last year directly to the conflict in Ukraine.
For energy-intensive industries, many of which form part of the recycling industry’s customer base, these huge energy costs had led to production cuts or even shutdowns. Aided by a notable shift in householder behaviour, Europe’s power demand declined by 3-4% last year when compared to 2021 and by 6-8% in the period from September.
Having observed that crude oil prices had now returned to levels seen before the Ukraine conflict, Mr Rolser predicted a continuing decline before settling around US$ 50-60 per barrel.
Following a question from outgoing BIR President Tom Bird about the extent of energy company profit-taking now that prices had returned to lower levels, Mr Rolser explained that these businesses were in a high-investment industry which had to contend with substantial volatility. He also noted a greater reluctance to invest owing to the push towards decarbonization.
And in response to a question from George Adams of SA Recycling in the USA, the guest speaker expressed the view that, with the necessary investment, the EU could become energy-independent of Russia within just a few years. In his earlier presentation, Mr Rolser indicated that Europe has historically relied on Russia to meet around a third of its gas supply, with Germany, Italy and Poland the most exposed.