Eco-Living Magazine

Scrap Material Exports Are Booming in the U.S.

Posted on the 24 December 2012 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

Over 20 years, the recycling rate in the U.S. has gone from 10% to 30%. Related to this point, Progressive Economy has yet another interesting trade fact for us. Though a net importer, the United States does have sectors that export more than they import. Those include aerospace, software, and grain as well as scrap and waste. It is this last category that I’d like to focus on. I had no idea Canada was the largest buyer of America’s used clothes, for example. As we recycle more of our trash, there is more to sell abroad.

  • Why the scrap-export boom? At home, there’s more to ship. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent (2011) report, recycling rates have risen from 10 percent of trash in 1990 to 31.6 percent in 2005, and 34 percent in 2010. This represents about 65 million of 250 million total tons of trash, even before we start counting industrial recyclers.
  • China is the largest buyer of America’s old newspapers; Canada, of used clothes. Vietnam’s 47,000-ton purchase tops the list for scrap rubber, and the UK’s 162,000 tons lead for sawdust; China again leads in scrap metal.

  • Over a decade, exports have grown from $4 billion for 18 million tons of scrap in 2001 to $40 billion for 50 million tons in 2011.

  • Crushed soda cans and broken glass: Last year’s exports came to $50 million worth of recycled soda cans, and 28,000 tons of broken glass valued at $13 million. Mexicans and Koreans bought most of the old cans, while the big buyers of broken glass were Canada, France, and Taiwan.

  • Scrap Metals: Scrap metal is the heaviest and most valuable recycled export product, earning $20 billion in 2011. Scrap iron and steel destined for steel mills, auto plants, and (indirectly) construction sites accounts for about half of the value; aluminum and copper are next. Half the total goes to China, with Turkey, Korea, and Taiwan next. “Waste” gold and platinum, mostly shipped to Switzerland, brought in $8 billion and $1.5 billion respectively.



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