Market Regulations Dent Metals Recovery

A recent EI Digest report signals that metals recovery from hazardous waste is being inhibited by low market values for recycled metals and a lack of regulatory incentives. Nevertheless waste operations are expecting hazardous waste volumes to increase in 2000.

In fact, according to the survey conducted by Environmental Information Ltd., Minneapolis, a majority of the 43 facilities operated by 30 companies reported increased waste acceptance in 1999 over previous years. This contradicts a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., waste acceptance trend that showed a net decrease between 1995 and 1997. The EPA reports that in 1997, 43 recycling facilities received approximately 621,000 tons of waste.

"The fact that volumes increased in 1999 is good news for the metals recovery market," says EI Researcher Thomas Moes. "It is rather remarkable considering that precious metal prices are at all-time lows. Operating profits from recycling operations are directly impacted by the revenues received from recovered metals - the lower the revenues, the lower the operating profits."

According to the report, waste firms expect a modest growth of 3 percent to 10 percent in waste volume in the coming year. "The majority of the firms contacted expect a better year in 2000," Moes says. "The exception to this is mercury waste, where there seems to be considerable activity and growth."

According to Moes, EI predicts more growth in mercury waste, but his company will further examine the metals recovery market niche for mercury-bearing wastes in its 2000 survey.

Smaller firms also are expected to be included in this year's survey.

While recycling is a preferred waste management industry alternative, relatively few regulatory incentives drive waste deliveries to metals recovery operations rather than inexpensive alternatives, the report states. The EPA's Phase IV passage of land disposal restrictions appears to be a positive step toward providing economic incentives for recycling, EI says.

"The importance of regulatory incentives is illustrated in this sector by the explosions of small firms specializing in the recycling of mercury," says EI Senior Analyst Cary Perket. "The regulatory restrictions placed on the management of mercury waste stimulated recycling in this market niche."