Whilst the fastest growing economies are still those drawing in huge quantities of raw materials to increase their infrastructure stock- Asia, Africa- western economies are no longer doing so to such an extent (see figure below). Benefiting from infrastructure development are those countries exporting raw materials to support this (Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Africa).
This underlines the different growth patterns between developed and developing countries and leads to a fall in the production of certain types of waste in developed countries, with an overall and rapid rise in developing countries.
Underlining the trends, I quote from Australian commodity supplier giant BHP Billiton from June 3rd 2015:
BHP Billiton, the world's biggest mining company, warned on Wednesday that a global oversupply of commodities that is putting pressure on prices is likely to be be prolonged. In metals markets, newly installed low-cost supply can now be stretched to meet growing demand, BHP Billiton Chief Executive Andrew Mackenzie told a gathering of sector executives and Australian lawmakers.
"Incremental supply, induced during periods of higher prices, will take longer to absorb and this means over-supply may persist for some time," he said.
For the waste industry, recycling of secondary raw materials in the EU faces flat to falling markets over the medium term. The current situation in which plastics and paper recycling facilities and MRFs are closing in the UK and USA, will continue and gain speed over the next months unless policies change (see below). This trend in the USA has gained momentum since the economic crisis of 2008 and illustrates the close link, in open economies, between market conditions and recycling industries.
In Europe some market volatility has been flattened out by EPR systems and an analysis of the effectiveness of these systems in ensuring recycling markets is another chapter this paper cannot undertake. Some brief comments:
The 2014 EC report on EPR systems states :
EPR economic performance : there is a lack of transparency regarding the financial aspects (fees and costs) of EPR schemes (costs are not always aggregated at a national scale), the link between the fees paid by the producers and the costs they are supposed to cover,or general access to the financial information and flows;
EPR technical performance: data regarding quantities put on the market, waste generated and collection and treatment are hardly comparable, being calculated in very diverse ways, with some quality issues.
So while EPR systems can be considered to have improved recycling of some defined streams, their performances are difficult to compare from one nation to another even for the same waste streams, both in economic and technical comparisons. An analysis of how EPR schemes will continue to support recycling in falling markets is a subject requiring greater study than undertaken in this paper and I would welcome research in this direction.
Contributing marginally to lower mineral costs have been greater efficiencies and competition in shipping lowering transport costs.