ALONG the muddy banks of the River Severn in Newport, Wales, sits the “mega-shredder”, an industrial monster owned by one of the world’s biggest metal-recycling firms, Sims Metal Management. It is one of the planet’s biggest consumers of metals—literally. Every hour the 560-tonne machine gobbles up more than half its weight in cars, washing machines and other appliances, making the earth shudder as it grinds them to pieces. It then uses magnets to separate the ferrous from the non-ferrous bits, spitting out small nuggets of steel, copper and other scrap. These are shipped to smelters in Asia, where they are mixed with ore and re-blasted into the rods and sheets that feed that other great devourer of metals, China.
A decade ago, when the machine was installed, China’s hunger for scrap seemed insatiable. Plumbers the world over developed a nifty side business as copper merchants. Theft was so rife that Britain banned cash payments for scrap metal. But in the first half of 2015 exports to China were half the level of 2012, when demand was at its peak, says Ian Hetherington of the British Metals Recycling Association. Scrap dealers’ hunt for...Continue reading