Why metals recyclers don’t need demand-side support

Should the Circular Economy package focus on increasing EU demand for recycled material? For metals, the answer is clear - “demand” is not an issue. Instead, we need to make sure that Europe’s metals can be accessed by quality recyclers, and stop them being landfilled, incinerated, or exported outside of Europe. 

One-size does not fit all

When it comes to the Circular Economy, one-size fits-all policies are seldom effective. Managing each material has different challenges, and they can’t all be tackled by a single approach.

For some sectors, there is indeed what we’d call a “demand” issue. This happens when recycled materials are of lower quality or a higher price than primary materials. In these cases, market forces work against the uptake of recycled materials in new products, and so policy support is needed.

That’s why some stakeholders are calling for demand-side measures from the Circular Economy Package. The European Waste management industry, FEAD, has gone the furthest, asking for “minimum recycled content requirements in certain product groups. 

Recycled metals – already in demand

But Europe already has a high demand for recycled metals, and so demand-side policies would be ineffective for our sector.

Whether mined or recycled, our primary and secondary raw materials are of identical quality. Often, they’re actually both mixed together when making the new metal, and so market forces don’t even come into play.

On the contrary, specifying minimum levels of recycled metal in new products would be counter-productive, potentially diverting secondary raw materials away from the applications that make most sense.

Supply issue - getting to the metal

For metals, the Circular Economy Package should instead focus on the supply-side. Too many of Europe’s metals are still being landfilled, incinerated, or poorly treated. To take one example, 750,000 tonnes of e-waste still ends up in waste bins annually, and 2.2 million tonnes are recycled outside of official schemes.

EU policy can help to improve our industry’s access to those metals, and make sure they are recycled under quality conditions. Below are three starter policies that would help to increase our access to products, scrap and industrial by-products.

  1. Maximise collection, through separate collection of different waste streams
  2. Stop landfilling, by introducing a progressive landfill ban on recyclable post-consumer good
  3. Promote quality recycling, by ensuring that certain waste streams are only treated by authorized quality recyclers

By recognising the specificities of different materials, the European Commission can achieve its Circular Economy vision. Metals will continue to be a leading circular material, but only if we work together to make sure they are recycled properly.

For more recommendations, access Eurometaux’s full position paper

Annick Carpentier is Sustainability Director at Eurometaux, and leading our Circular Economy work.