Plastics markets have been experiencing a fairly sharp downward trend over the past several months. Led by a slump in polyester, many plastic scrap grades have been hit by a combination of lower oil prices, a slumping economy throughout Europe and a slowing Chinese buyers’ market.
China, which had been one of the driving forces for surging plastic scrap prices in 2011, is now becoming a much more difficult market to serve. Several reports note that Chinese customs agents are prohibiting many container shipments of plastic scrap, which is forcing more plastic scrap recyclers in Europe and the U.S. to redirect shipments to other destinations.
“When Shanghai says no, everything stops,” a European plastics broker notes.
Another source says demand for mixed post-consumer plastic grades has fallen off quite significantly. He points to tighter regulations throughout Asia, as well as higher freight rates that are curbing the appetites of many potential consumers. He says that virgin LDPE prices have dropped significantly, while PET also has taken “a big hit.” Another concern for European plastics recyclers was an Italian policy that was introduced during April 2012. According to the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), the law stipulated that, at the point of customs clearance, there must be a declaration from the destination country that it possessed a recycling system with standards similar to Europe’s.
During the BIR spring meeting, Surendra Borad of the Belgium-based company Gemini Corp., said that it was “difficult if not impossible to export any kind of scrap out of Italy.” However, the BIR noted, due to the intervention of the BIR, the Italian law has since been withdrawn.
Stefano Fiore, a representative of Italy-based Logistics Group Srl, noted that current EU legislation on transboundary movements of waste “is interpreted and applied in Italy differently from the other member countries.” Even though the above-mentioned Italian law was swiftly repealed, “many other problems remain,” he warned. “Until the difference between waste for disposal and waste for recovery is clarified within the Italian mindset, there is very little possibility that this sector will come into line with the operations of other member countries.”
As a forwarding agent, his biggest problem is “the constant feeling of uncertainty caused by the overly free interpretation of the laws in force,” he said.
One grade that appears to be holding up better than others has been plastic film. Shipments have been steady. One exporter notes that “India has been buying lots of film.” This pickup comes despite currency issues in India that are making it far more difficult for exporters to ship into the country.