Market mismatches

Departments - Plastics

May 12, 2014
Recycling Today Staff

The spotlight turned to plastics Wednesday, April 9, 2014, at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries Inc. (ISRI) 2014 Convention & Exposition in Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.

The speakers addressing attendees of the Spotlight on Plastics session were Phillip Karig, managing director of Mathelin Bay Associates LLC, St. Louis; Surendra Borad Patawari, chairman of Gemini Corp., Antwerp, Belgium; and Adriano Assi, CEO of EcoBrasil, Sao Paulo.

Karig noted that 40 percent of U.S. recyclables are shipped to China annually, adding that the country’s consumers can tolerate some contamination in recovered plastics destined for polyester production. However, more generally, China’s processing capabilities are a mismatch for the single-stream collection method employed in the United States, he said. This mismatch requires U.S. recyclers to find more domestic markets for their recovered material, Karig added.

“The closer you work with scrap generators, the more potential value,” he advised attendees.

Karig said recyclers can realize greater value by conducting microsorts within individual resin groups, by compounding resins and by developing closed-loop systems that are integrated with their customers’ operations.

Regarding consumers of recycled material, he advised recyclers, “Know your customers and what they can use. Produce the most specific material you can for them.”

This specificity includes color sorting. “Color sorting is very important,” Karig said, noting that color concentrates are expensive.

While Karig’s comments were applicable to recyclers regardless of location, Gemini’s Borad looked more specifically at the European Union. He said four times more scrap is generated in Europe than the continent has the capacity to recycle. However, governments in EU member states are looking to restrict the intercountry flow of scrap. This may not be good news for chemical companies that are investing in processing capacity outside of Europe, Borad added.

Regarding China’s Operation Green Fence, Borad said it has led to some confusion and indecisiveness in the scrap trade. Chinese imports of plastic scrap declined by 11 percent in 2013 as a result, while imports of plastic scrap from the U.S. declined by 21 percent for the year.

Borad called Operation Green Fence “a wake-up call.” He described the Chinese central government’s enforcement of existing laws as “a blessing in disguise that will lead to higher quality in Europe.”

Assi spoke more generally of recycling in Brazil, noting that the country is moving away from a peddler-based collection system to commercial and municipal collection. As of 2011, only 443 of Brazil’s 5,565 cities had recycling programs; the number of cities offering recycling services jumped to 3,328 in 2013. He said recycling was becoming mandatory in the country, adding that the government has been more focused on collecting recyclables than on stimulating industry to consume these secondary raw materials.

Incineration is not an acceptable disposal option in Brazil, Assi added. However, he said electricity is expensive in Brazil, which works against plastics recycling, which is electricity intensive.

The ISRI 2014 Convention & Exposition was April 6-10 in Las Vegas.