Where can I import copper scrap

Contested scrap - copper on the world recycling market

Series "Industrial metals - Achilles heel of the German economy?", Part 3

From Caspar Dohmen

The recycling of copper is very attractive for companies because less energy is required than for the production of new copper. (AP)

Copper is found in many devices, whether cell phones, washing machines or wind generators. In the future, industry will install it more often because it is an important component of future technologies such as the electric car. How competitive copper is can also be seen in the recycling market.

People have valued copper as a material for thousands of years because it is easy to process and it conducts heat. It is also relatively easy to recycle in its pure form - the Phoenicians already used this versatile metal over and over again. Recycled copper now covers around one sixth of the world's total demand. The largest system is in Lünen in Westphalia. It is operated by the Hamburg raw materials group Aurubis. When walking across the company premises, authorized signatory Stefan-Georg Fuchs passes Bergen Altkupfer.

"You see pipes that came from the demolition, you see pressed boilers, copper kettles, wire from the windings of motors or copper cables, we put a total of around 130 different types of scrap in here."

Fuchs enters a hall. This is where the most important stage of the recycling process takes place with electrolysis. After 21 days, the raw product is ready for further processing into wires or other copper products. Recycling copper is very attractive for companies because it requires significantly less energy than the production of new copper. In order to use its plants to full capacity, Aurubis buys copper scrap in more than 50 countries. Shopping has become more difficult due to unfair trading practices. According to the European Commission, China alone levies -373 export duties on raw materials and pipes, sheets or wires made of copper. There are also cheats in China when it comes to imports, complains Aurubis manager Hans-Gerhard Hoffmann, a sought-after raw materials expert at the Federation of German Industries:

"The entire value chain of copper is affected by the fact that there is distortion of competition in China. It starts with imports, with scrap imports, which the Chinese traditionally allow a lot of customs fraud and misclassification and misdocumentation of types of scrap in order to save import duties. "

In addition, companies receive subsidies, for example cheap loans from Chinese state banks. This is why Chinese copper buyers often outperform their European counterparts. They often just pay more for scrap. The result: around a third of the world's scrap goes to China alone. But China is by no means an isolated case. The copper expert Hoffmann thinks of countries that violate the rules of free trade:

"Russia should be named immediately in second place. Russia has for years generally forbidden the drainage of scrap. And there are many countries that have partly learned from China or Russia, basically like Pakistan or partly Egypt. The latest example is Turkey."

However, there are problems not only in the distance, but also on your own doorstep. Because of the high world market prices for scrap, it is attractive to resell old refrigerators or cars in the third world. The goods are declared as consumer goods that will continue to be used. Often these goods go to Africa. That’s allowed. However, if the goods were correctly declared as waste, then they would not even be allowed to leave the zone of the industrialized countries. In addition, their proper disposal must be guaranteed. Jörg Lacher, spokesman for the Federal Association for Secondary Raw Materials and Disposal, sees one reason for the illegal export of scrap in the lax export controls.

"That is certainly annoying, especially because the enforcement of the existing rules obviously does not apply here."

According to the Aurubis manager, there is a risk of copper bottlenecks in European industry due to illegal exports and trade barriers on the scrap markets. He recommends rethinking, especially when dealing with China:

"Not only as a German, but also as an EU on the political side, people hesitated for far too long to talk nonsense with the Chinese when it came to raw material markets."