Nonferrous Scrap Trade Flows

China continued to reshape the global nonferrous scrap market last year as U.S. copper & copper alloy scrap exports to mainland China plunged by two-thirds to just under 88,000 metric tons in 2019. For comparison’s sake, the U.S. exported nearly 688,000 tons of copper scrap to China in 2017. The surge in shipments to Malaysia (+85% to 221,429 mt) and improved demand from India, Germany, Taiwan, Belgium, Thailand, Sweden, and a few others helped to offset the reduced business with China. But for 2019 overall, U.S. copper scrap exports were reportedly down 4.6% to 871,000 metric tons.

U.S. Copper and Copper Alloy Scrap Exports
Metric tons
U.S. Copper

Sources: U.S. Census Bureau/U.S. International Trade Commission

Unlike with copper, the U.S. trade data show aluminum scrap (including UBCs and RSI) exports from the United States increased 5.8% by volume in 2019 to 1.86 million metric tons as the 36 percent drop in shipments to mainland China was more than offset by heavier loadings for Malaysia, South Korea, India, and Hong Kong.
U.S. Aluminum

U.S. scrap exports of the other major nonferrous metals were down across the board last year, including:

  • Lead scrap exports, down 20% to 39 kt
  • Nickel scrap exports, down 14% to 32 kt
  • Zinc scrap exports, down 24% to 31 kit
  • Tin scrap exports, down 59% to 2 kt
U.S. Exports of Lead

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