During the Plastics Recycling Conference, held in New Orleans March 19-20, 2013, Hamilton Wen of Newport CH International, Orange, Calif., discussed the export market for recovered plastics during the plenary session, “Expert Analysis of Resin Markets.” Wen looked specifically at China, which he said purchased $650 billion in plastic scrap from the United States in 2012. While this number is impressive, Wen said it was down nearly 15 percent from 2011’s figure.
He added that roughly 80 percent of the plastic scrap exported from the United States heads to China or Hong Kong, with the remainder going to Canada, India and other parts of Southeast Asia. China’s inexpensive labor and need for raw material has helped to maintain this trading pattern for the last six years, Wen said.
China imported 838 million metric tons of plastic scrap in 2011, he said, noting that the country is home to tens of thousands of end users/processors that range from large mills with modern technology and processes to “mom and pop” shops. He added that China’s domestic recycling is increasing dramatically as well.
Today, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, China’s government is attempting to make up for some of the damage to its environment in the name of GDP growth by erecting a “green fence” around the country, Wen said. This generally involves the enforcement of existing laws designed to prevent the import of undesirable waste into the country and includes thorough inspections of incoming shipments of recyclables.
These regulations, poor material quality and other factors are affecting the plastics recycling industry in China today, Wen said. He added that increasing labor costs, which have doubled in the last five years, and a lack of industry-wide definitions and organization also are negatively affecting the plastics recycling industry in China. Also taking a toll are the effects of the global recession, he said.
Looking toward the future, Wen predicted that lower-grade plastic scrap will remain difficult to ship into China as a result of its environmental protection measures. This will slowly force suppliers to improve the quality of the plastic scrap they ship to the country, he added. Additionally, Wen predicted that more plastic scrap will be processed within the United States and in Southeast Asian countries apart from China as a result.
He added that demand from China for most grades of secondary plastic would remain strong in the year ahead.
Closer to home, Scott Mouw of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources spoke of a proposed bill that has been introduced in that state’s legislature that is designed to reduce the risk biodegradable plastics pose to the existing plastics recycling infrastructure. Mouw was a presenter during a plenary session at the Plastics Recycling Conference titled “Top Trends and Issues.”
North Carolina House Bill 315 would require containers, including bottles, made of biodegradable plastics to be labeled as nonrecyclable in an effort to prevent contamination of recycled feedstock, Mouw said.
Alabama also is considering similar legislation in Senate Bill 298.