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The Brussels-based Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) will host its World Recycling Convention & Exhibition at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, May 22-24. The global recycling industry association says it decided to host its spring 2017 event in the cosmopolitan city of Hong Kong, with its well-earned reputation as the financial hub of Asia, because of China’s importance in the worldwide recycling industry.

This will be the second time the BIR has hosted one of its conventions in Hong Kong; the first time was more than a decade ago in 1996.

The association also has hosted conferences in the Asian cities of Beijing (2006) and Shanghai (2013).

Ascendant Asia

In selecting Hong Kong as the host city for the BIR’s May convention, Elisabeth Christ, communications director for the association, says it was an easy choice in light of the importance of the Asian market, and China in particular, for recyclers around the globe. She says Hong Kong offers easy access from surrounding Asian countries that are playing a larger role in the global recycling industry.

Christ says the BIR is receiving support not only from its Chinese national member associations but also from its individual members in the region.

Ranjit Baxi, BIR president and chairman of London-based J&H Sales (International) Ltd., says, “Most of us have been to the conventions in Europe and the United States, but this region is so important now.”

Holding the event in Hong Kong also makes sense as it reflects one of the key goals of the BIR, Christ says. “The BIR is the sole international trade association of the recycling industry,” she says. “We are unique through the fact that we do not follow any national agenda but represent the interests of all our members from 70 countries. This is guaranteed through the international governance structure of our organization.”

While China is the “hub” for the burgeoning Asian market for recyclables, other countries in Southeast Asia are playing a more active role as consuming destinations for recyclables, Baxi says. “Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and others are very active in the (recycling) market. For Europeans, there is great interest in hearing about these regions as well.”

Having direct access to Chinese firms also gives recyclers from outside the area the opportunity to listen to what is happening in China, what the trends are and how traders can conduct business.

The recycling markets in 2015 and 2016 were very tough, Baxi says. “Now, we are on the verge of an uptake in demand for recyclables.”

This improvement, he adds, is not without challenges. “There are many critical issues that recyclers are facing.”

Hot topics

Baxi says he feels that soaring freight rates, which have been on the rise since the collapse of Hanjin Shipping last year, likely will be discussed during the conference. Because of the bankruptcy filing, the cost of shipping recyclables to China has become more expensive. With these high costs, Baxi says he wonders what steps if any scrap recyclers can take to reign in higher costs.

Another topical issue that likely will be discussed during the plenary sessions will be China’s recent introduction of an anti-smuggling program. Instituted by China’s General Administration of Customs (GAC), the program has generated interest (and concern) from several companies shipping into the country.

With National Sword, China’s GAC has put in place a program that is designed to crack down on smuggling and importing “foreign waste” primarily in five areas, including plastic “waste.”

Steve Wong, chairman of Hong Kong-based Fukutomi Co. Ltd. and a member of BIR’s Plastics Committee, says, “Nationwide action has been carried out by the GAC [at] ports in Guangdong, Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Huangpu, Qingdao, Tianjin, Ningbo, Shanghai and Nanjing” as of late February. He continues, “This crackdown has so far resulted in 15 smuggling operations being exposed, the arrest of 90 suspects and confiscation of 22,100 tons of ‘foreign waste.’” Wong says these shipments have included electronic scrap, plastic scrap and mixed household waste and recyclables.

While the initial targets of the beefed-up inspections do not include metals or paper scrap, several sources say they worry that the lack of detailed program information could open the door to expanding the anti-smuggling efforts, possibly bringing metal and paper scrap under the scrutiny of Chinese officials.

In some of its most recent statements, the GAC says it will be working in collaboration with three other groups—the country’s Environmental Protection Department, police and China’s State Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ)—to inspect and prevent solid waste from being imported into the country under the guise of recyclables. The joint task group says it expects the inspection program to run throughout most of 2017.

Baxi says conference attendees will have the opportunity to meet with and hear firsthand from consumers in China about what these policies mean for exporters to the country.

Social events at the BIR World Recycling Convention include a welcome reception at the observation deck of the tallest building in Hong Kong, the Sky100, which provides a 360-degree view of the territory and Victoria Harbour.

Christ notes that in addition to holding sessions on various commodities, such as nonferrous metals, paper and paperboard, textiles and plastics, the BIR World Recycling Convention & Exhibition includes meetings of the organization’s International Trade Council and International Environment Council.

Further, she says, “We will also have a keynote session on a more general topic, and a meeting of our newly created World Council of Recycling Associations.”

The goal of the World Council of Recycling Associations is to promote recycling worldwide and to increase awareness among policymakers, legislators and the public of the economic, social and environmental contribution of the industry, Christ continues.

While at press time the BIR had not finalized the full agenda for the event, the association says it has been monitoring other important international developments that are affecting the international trade of recyclables and environmental legislation.

In addition to China’s anti-smuggling campaign, other topics sure to be brought up during the three-day program include the impact Brexit is having on the recycling industry and the recent U.S. election of President Donald Trump.

Plenary programming

The convention begins May 21, although only committee members and invited guests can attend those sessions, which are mostly limited to committee business.

The convention is open to all attendees May 22 with a plenary session from BIR’s Non-Ferrous Metals Division at 9:30 a.m. That session will be followed by the Stainless Steel & Special Alloys Committee plenary, the Tyres & Rubber Committee plenary, the Textiles Division plenary and the International Trade Council plenary.

Plenary programming the second day of the convention includes the Ferrous Division, the Shredder Committee, the World Council of Recycling Associations, the Annual General Assembly, the Keynote Session and the Paper Division.

Plenary programming during the final day of the convention includes the E-Scrap Committee and the Plastics Committee, as well as the International Environment Council.

Reflecting the breadth of attendees, Christ says the BIR World Recycling Convention in Hong Kong is expected to draw 900 people from 60 different countries.

In addition to three days of informative sessions on a range of topics of interest to recyclers around the world, the convention is expected to have 50 exhibitors showcasing products and services.

Mixing and mingling

The conference also features several networking and social events, giving attendees opportunities to mingle business with pleasure as they network with one another.

Social events at the BIR World Recycling Convention include a welcome reception at the observation deck of the tallest building in Hong Kong, the Sky100, which provides a 360-degree view of the territory and Victoria Harbour; a Young Traders’ Networking Evening at Aqua Bar in the heart of the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre; and a Meet the Exhibitors Party, also at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.

As in year’s past, the BIR’s spring 2017 World Recycling Convention & Exhibition offers attendees a mix of programming and networking opportunities that can deliver new information and lead to new connections and business opportunities in the months ahead.

The author is the senior editor with the Recycling Today Media Group.