The turn of the year poses challenges as well as opportunities for the plastics recycling industry throughout Europe, especially in Western Europe. Prices have been holding up moderately well throughout the past several months, though there doesn’t appear to be much momentum sending pricing higher or lower.
Several large dealers of a range of plastic scrap say markets are pointing moderately upward, with sources adding that they feel demand from Asian markets, especially China, will boost overall demand for many key plastic grades.
LDPE (low-density polyethylene) plastic scrap appears to be one of the more in-demand grades, while PET (polyethylene terephthalate) seems to be one of the few grades that have been struggling toward the end of 2012.
A broker/exporter operating in northern Europe says he expects to see big increases in demand from the Asian markets during the first quarter of 2013. He speculates that this pickup in orders could happen after the conclusion of Chinese New Year, 10 Feb.
“Prices are firm for plastic in both China and India,” another European trader notes. With the exception of PET, he says he is seeing a steady flow of material from Europe to sources throughout Asia. In addition to China, he also is seeing some modest strength in the movement of plastic scrap to Bangladesh as well as to India.
Many European exporters point to the decline in freight rates from European ports to China as an advantage. One source says container rates have dropped by more than 20%. While this has benefited recent exports, he says he is hearing that container lines are looking to take as many as 265,000 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units) out of service to reduce overcapacity. If this occurs, freight rates could stabilize and perhaps even increase.
Another broker, who has trading offices in both Europe and China, concurs that most plastic grades are moving well and that prices are stable. However, he cautions that plastic scrap inventories in China are fairly significant.
While plastic scrap markets are fairly strong, one concern expressed by many exporters is the possibility of tighter restrictions on the import of plastic scrap. Several sources have reported that some mixed loads of plastics, notably rigid plastics, are being turned away at ports in China.
Another source says prices for rigid plastics continue to decline.
Another concern regarding export, according to one source, is a new regulation prohibiting the export of plastic scrap from Europe to Malaysia. Additionally, increased competition from Eastern European sources has made the situation more challenging for recyclers throughout Western Europe.
On the European continent, several plastics recyclers are expressing concern that lingering economic problems have resulted in a decline in the supply of available plastic scrap. This has put pressure on many exporters, who end up with more plastics scrap from commingled collection programs rather than with manufacturing scrap.
However, there is optimism longer term. Attendees of a recent meeting of the Plastics Recyclers Europe (EuPR) expressed a bullish outlook for plastics markets throughout Europe in 2013. Ton Emans, EuPR president, said, “We should push plastics recycling for higher targets in order to improve Europe’s efficiency and in order to better manage our own resources.”