“Metal is in the enviable position of being at the heart of any circular economy”
FER, the employers of the recovery and recycling sector in Spain, recently interviewed President of the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA), Susie Burrage to find out what Brexit will mean for the UK’s recovery companies.
The president of the British Metals Recycling Association (BMRA) analyses what Brexit will mean for the country’s recovery companies and how their relationship with those of the European Union will be, in a scenario in which, despite the fact that the possibility exists, it does not contemplate the breakdown of the negotiations of a trade agreement between both parties.
“We hope that Commerce remains as free of obstacles as it is at the moment because the increase in restrictions could affect the industry.”
Susie Burrage is not just the president of one of the oldest recycling associations but also has maximum responsibility for EUROMETREC, the division of non – ferrous metals Euric. For this reason, it is one of the most authoritative voices to analyse what the confirmed departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union will mean and what will be the main consequences for the recovery companies on both sides of the English Channel.
By current order, after the confirmation of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, what impact do you think Brexit will have on the recovery companies in your country?
There is still a lot of uncertainty about the effects of Brexit. While we understand that the UK Government will adopt much of the current EU environmental regulations, there is still little certainty about its intentions for the future. There is also a lack of clarity around the impacts of Brexit on shipments of waste, both those destined for the EU and those likely to transit the EU. However, BMRA is working with all government departments involved to ensure that its members are kept informed and that their companies are affected as little as possible. Meanwhile, everything remains the same.
Bilateral talks to reach a trade agreement begins this month. What is BMRA’s position in this regard? What effects do you think it could have for the recycling industry if both parties do not ratify the agreement?
We hope that trade remains as smooth as it is at the moment. Any delay at the border or increased restrictions could affect the industry. However, the UK scrap metal industry is very resilient and you will certainly find new ways of doing business.
One of the concerns of European metal recovery companies is the consequences that an exit without an agreement could have for the London Metal Exchange (LME). Is it a concern shared by UK companies?
During the implementation period, EU law will continue to apply in the UK, as if it were still a Member State. Therefore, access to the LME will not be affected this year. If there is no agreement between the UK and the EU on financial services, we understand that the LME Group will be in contact with the European regulatory authorities to try to enable them to continue to provide services to EEA participants. How they will do so remains to be seen, although an agreement between the UK and the EU is expected.
BMRA is one of the most representative EuRIC associations. Will Brexit influence your presence and participation in the Confederation?
Not at all. We maintain our support for EuRIC in all its projects. Both Howard Bluck and I will retain our seats on the Board, and we remain willing to attend meetings to represent the industry to European regulators.
One of the main demands of EuRIC is to establish measures that encourage the use of secondary raw materials and, to this end, create a strong internal market that avoids dependence on continuous changes in the prices of virgin raw materials. What is your opinion about it?
I think scrap metal is, and should only be described as secondary raw material. It is the engine of the circular economy, and is one of only two permanent materials; scrap metal is definitely not a waste. Increasing the use of scrap metal in the metal fabrication process could help protect the environment on many levels, and governments around the world should recognise it.
Another issue of concern to the recycling industry is the import restrictions on different waste streams decreed by China and other Asian countries. What consequences are they having for UK companies and what are the priority measures to deal with these trade barriers?
In many ways, the scrap metal industry has been lucky. In general, we have been able to meet the growing demand for higher quality because, as a sector, we have already moved in that direction. At the same time, thanks to this effort to improve quality, many companies have also found new markets.
Regarding the transition to the circular economy we are in now, what state do you think you are in and what are your main obstacles?
Metal is in the enviable position of being at the heart of any circular economy due to its properties. The biggest impediment we are currently facing in developing a true circular economy is product design. Manufacturers need to start designing products for reuse, repair, and end-of-life, and not just for ease of manufacture. Regulatory bodies are currently looking into it, and I think manufacturers are also starting to adopt eco-design principles.
Last year, the BMRA celebrated its 100-year history, what are the association’s main milestones in this century of life?
Oh my God. How can I choose only a few? I think the most important thing is that, for more than 100 years, the Association has been there to support and protect its members. The Association has helped to develop accessible legislation, to avoid harmful standards and, at the same time, to offer advice and develop guidelines for the sector.
What are the main problems facing UK companies today, what would be the possible solutions?
There are several problems, but I think the main one is that we run the risk of being regulated to the point that we cannot recycle metals effectively. Rather than taking a risk-based approach, some regulators only consider the hazard, even if there is no risk associated with that hazard. However, I am confident that we will overcome this mindset as we cannot sustain the extraction of primary minerals forever.
How is the relationship between BMRA and FER and what is your opinion on the work done by FER?
We have a great relationship and I hope it continues. I believe that the work done by FER is crucial, as every voice counts and FER is in an ideal position to lead the work that we all must carry out.
Note: This interview was conducted before the WHO declared the pandemic worldwide by Covid-19 by FER, the employers of the recovery and recycling sector.