Britain extracted raw materials from Africa to power its 1800’s growth. The UK processed the raw materials into value added products, employed people and generated wealth.
All those people that trumpet our exports to China are, as I have said before, liars or idiots. Aside from the fact we are a massive net importer, our biggest exports are raw materials – scrap metal and waste paper. Those two items are reprocessed into value added products sold back to us. China is Britain and the U.S. is West Africa.
Here’s more evidence from the Denver Post.
August 23, 2012
The Denver Post
Drop that plastic cup or cardboard box into the recycling bin, and there’s a good chance it might find its way to China. Colorado’s biggest export to the world’s second-largest economy last year wasn’t high-end instruments or industrial machines. For the first time, it was scrap metal and waste products.
“If there is value in a material, people will find a way to bring it to market,” said Joe Pickard, chief economist and director of commodities with the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, a trade group based in Washington, D.C.
Colorado isn’t alone in that regard. About 40 percent of the United States’ scrap and recyclable waste goes abroad, and China over the years has become the biggest buyer.
A trade imbalance in China’s favor allows America’s waste products to be economically shipped such long distances.
Containers come from China full of manufactured goods. Rather than having them returned empty, the Chinese fill them with lower-valued scrap.
Some of that scrap comes back as consumer products or, in the case of paper, cardboard boxes. Some goes into China’s infrastructure — rebar for road construction and pipes for new buildings.
“They are mining the United States and developed countries for scrap metal,” said Michael Rosen, manager of Atlas Metal & Iron Corp. in central Denver, which does brisk business shipping mountains of aluminum, copper and iron to foreign lands.
Developing economies such as China’s lack the volume of old cars, appliances and other consumer items to recycle domestically, so they look to developed areas, Pickard said.
Lower labor costs allow workers to disassemble items that might be cost-prohibitive here — like stripping the copper out of an old electric motor.
Colorado exported more than $124.4 million in scrap and waste products to China last year, up from $8.3 million in 2002, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That included $62 million in aluminum scrap, $47.2 million in copper and $7.4 million in paperboard.
Waste and scrap consist of extras from manufacturing, but also industrial and consumer items such as junk cars, old appliances, empty boxes.
At Atlas, eight vehicles, mostly pickup trucks, lined up at the gate to drop off items Wednesday afternoon.
One carried wrought-iron chairs, and another was filled with old gutters. As they waited, a man rode up on a bike, carrying what looked like roof flashing under one arm.
Those items landed among dozens of piles that dot the 10-acre yard. One big pile is just for aluminum frames, not to be mixed with painted aluminum and aluminum cans.
Near a big mound of wires were several large boxes, including one filled with just Christmas lights.
“Those are going to China,” said Rosen, whose family started the yard in 1956. So will a big pile of motors, laden with valuable copper.
Atlas employs 110 people, not to mention supporting those who collect and haul in the materials.
The company fills eight to 10 shipping containers a day with scrap, most of it bound for China, Rosen said. Once it leaves Denver, a container will take about four weeks to arrive at its destination.
“There is nothing that goes to waste in China,” Rosen said. He has visited the country three times, most recently in November.
Manufacturing with recycled materials means less ore is pulled out of the ground, fewer trees are cut down and less energy is consumed when compared with using new materials. Reusing aluminum, for example, consumes 92 percent less energy than making it from scratch, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.
“Exporting is an essential tool to successful recycling, and we need the global markets,” said Mick Barry, president of M2B2, which has a facility in Salida.
Fewer items end up in landfills, becoming instead a source of income for people on both sides of the trade.
The export of electronic goods such as old computer monitors to China and other countries — which isn’t tracked as closely as commodities such as metals — has been more problematic.
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Criminal Investigation Division pursued criminal charges against two executives at Executive Recycling in Englewood. Authorities allege items were put into containers and shipped to China, where workers disposed of them in ways highly damaging to the environment and their own health.
The need to ship such large volumes of scrap also highlights weaknesses in the state’s recycling efforts and manufacturing base, said Marjorie Griek, executive director of the Colorado Association for Recycling. The state recaptures less than a quarter of its waste stream, ranking it among the worst in the country.
Colorado shipped $5.5 million of iron and steel scrap to China, a fraction of the dollar volume it sent in aluminum and copper, according to trade numbers.
That’s because the EVRAZ steel mill in Pueblo consumes scrap iron and steel in the region, reducing the need to send it elsewhere.
“We would like to see more domestic markets for these materials,” Griek said. “In the long run, that will serve us well.”