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When attendees gather for Bureau of International Recycling (BIR) events, they never have a shortage of topics to address; but, the agenda may be particularly crowded in May 2018 when the organization convenes for its annual spring World Recycling Convention & Exhibition. The event will be at the Sofia Hotel in Barcelona, Spain, May 28-30.

Each secondary commodity market has issues unique to that sector, but front and center in many of the markets in 2018 will be the actions and reactions pertaining to the Chinese government’s scrap trade policies.

By the time the Brussels-based BIR holds its commodity- and sector-specific sessions in late May, scrap recyclers, traders and consumers will have nearly half of 2018 behind them to compare notes on how and whether Chinese policies have changed their portion of the recycling industry.

In addition to the programming and networking opportunities offered at the BIR World Recycling Convention & Exhibition in Barcelona, Spain, the city itself serves to draw attendees.

Actions and reactions

Commodity pricing largely has benefited from several years of global economic growth (following the painful 2008-2009 financial crisis), helping many recyclers and traders maintain solid margins much of this decade.

Veteran recyclers and traders, however, seldom expect sustained smooth sailing, and events in China have helped provide some of the choppy waters to navigate in 2017 and 2018.

Metals traders and metals-related divisions and committees outnumber nonmetallic groups at BIR, but the nonmetallic division and committee meetings are likely to host some of the most anticipated updates.

The BIR’s Paper Division meets the morning of Monday, May 28, hosting the first open session of the 2018 convention. When the Paper Division met one year previously in Hong Kong, fluctuating ocean shipping rates and volatile prices for the old corrugated containers (OCC) grade were primary topics of discussion.

Just a few months later, when the division reconvened in New Delhi in October 2017, China’s looming import restrictions on mixed paper and its tight quality specifications on other commodities moved front and center.

The BIR’s Plastics Committee and Textiles Division, each of which meet Wednesday, May 30, have experienced similar timelines, with restrictions in those two sectors having been even more comprehensive than what has taken place in the paper sector.

China’s import restrictions also have affected parts of the nonferrous scrap market. The BIR’s Non-Ferrous Division meets immediately after the Paper Division meeting May 28, and the agenda is likely to include reactions to the situation in China.

In each of these markets, recyclers, traders and scrap consumers have been engaging in sudden geographic shifts, as unprepared scrap materials that for two decades had been shipped to China must now either find new destinations or go through initial processing in a different part of the world before being shipped to a Chinese port.

The BIR Ferrous Division convenes Tuesday, May 29, with delegates and speakers less likely to talk about import restrictions but perhaps still touching on China’s impact on the global market.

In a market report prepared for a February 2018 ferrous edition of the BIR World Mirror, Tom Bird of Hong Kong-based Chiho Environmental Group writes, “With Chinese steel exports down over 30 percent [in 2017], we experienced a world without Chinese steel saturating international markets. Restoration of steel scrap demand and prices have propelled our industry into a positive environment.”

In all sectors, changes to global secondary commodity trading patterns that have occurred since the BIR’s previous two meetings are likely to be leading topics of conversation.

Crowded rooms

With trade issues affecting several of the recycling industry’s largest sectors, the BIR convention’s organizers anticipate a healthy turnout at the Barcelona event.

In addition to the meetings for the Paper, Plastics, Non-Ferrous, Ferrous and Textile divisions, committees and councils plan to host open sessions:

  • Stainless Steel & Special Alloys Committee (May 28);
  • E-Scrap Committee (May 28);
  • Tyres & Rubber Committee (May 28);
  • Shredder Committee (May 29);
  • World Council of Recycling Associations (May 29); 
  • International Trade Council (May 29); and
  • International Environment Council (May 30).

Other committees and councils meet on an invitation-only basis during the four days to discuss internal BIR business.

Traders and recyclers engaged in multiple markets have a full schedule awaiting them during the Barcelona convention, with programming starting as early as 8 a.m. on some days and scheduled receptions running into the late evening.

A positive sign for the event involves the advanced sale of all exhibit space in Barcelona. The BIR announced in early March that “all spaces have been booked in our expanded exhibition space.”

Equipment and service suppliers, like traders, are eager to explore the opportunities inherent in helping recyclers overcome some of the sudden changes occurring in the global recycling markets.

Of the 20 confirmed exhibitors in Barcelona, several offer equipment that can help further process materials that now face restrictions in China (such as France-based wire processing equipment maker MTB Recycling) or equipment that can help sort mixed materials (such as Germany-based Steinert and Tomra Sorting Solutions).

Other vendors exhibiting at the event provide ferrous baling and shearing, material handling and metals analyzing equipment, plus recycling-industry-specific software.

New or expanded contract trading and financing opportunities also have an exhibitor presence in Barcelona, with the London Metal Exchange (LME) and JP Morgan exhibiting.

The LME has long provided nonferrous metals trading services, but in 2017 and 2018 the organization has been offering contract trading services to ferrous scrap buyers and sellers as well.

BIR convention organizers will take advantage of the cultural aspects of their convention’s host city of Barcelona, Spain, with networking events.
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As they have traditionally, BIR convention organizers plan to take advantage of the cultural aspects of their convention’s host city.

“With a long-standing reputation for producing fruitful networking events in amazing surroundings, our host city for the upcoming BIR Convention—sunny Barcelona—will not disappoint,” says Antoine Breysens, the BIR’s convention manager.

Much of the activity takes place at the Sofia Hotel, which the BIR describes as “an amazing five-star business hotel completely redesigned in 2017. It is located on the renowned Avenida Diagonal in the heart of Barcelona’s most exclusive residential, financial and shopping district and within 15 minutes’ reach from Barcelona Airport.”

On its website, the Sofia Hotel describes itself as “the perfect host for anyone seeking experience, excellence and creativity,” and as “the perfect union between the space with the largest capacity in the city, advice and personalized attention.”

The venue features more than 20 meeting rooms, including a convention hall “with [the] capacity to seat more than 1,000 attendees,” according to the Sofia Hotel website.

The nonmetallic division and committee meetings are likely to host some of the most anticipated updates.

The BIR traditionally hosts welcome receptions at each of its conventions at historic or culturally significant venues in the host cities. As of mid-March, the BIR had not yet disclosed the venue for its spring conference in Barcelona, but the association indicates it is “looking for a very special place” to host “a festive 70th anniversary celebration” the evening of Monday, May 28.

Barcelona offers several such places, with the city being home to culturally significant basilicas and cathedrals, museums, plazas and marketplaces.

The city also is host to numerous sandy beaches, some featuring boardwalks designed to allow visitors to take lengthy strolls (provided, in the case of BIR attendees, they can take some time away from business concerns).

Whatever combination of business and pleasure a traveler to Barcelona for the BIR World Recycling Conference & Exhibition wishes to seek, the event provides a perfect opportunity.

More information on registering for the BIR World Recycling Convention & Exhibition in Barcelona May 28-30 can be found on the event’s website,

The author is editor of Recycling Today and can be contacted at