Varying by grade

Departments - Commodities Plastics

Some plastic scrap grades are faring better than others.

September 3, 2019

Markets for plastic scrap are varying by grade, with polypropylene (PP) performing better than polyethylene (PE), sources say.

“Polypropylene demand is healthy,” a reprocessor based in the Southeast U.S. says. “Lots of people are looking to buy scrap, and repro (reprocessed) orders are strong.”

She adds, “PET (polyethylene terephthalate), especially sheet-grade [repro], seems to be coming back and also the beleaguered engineering grades, such as nylon [and] polycarbonate.”

The Southeast-based reprocessor says these materials are seeing “decent demand and even some shortages” because “many recyclers abandoned those grades due to lower demand and high cost of processing.”

However, she says the situation is different for PE. “I’ve known of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) injection recycled orders being canceled due to cheap availability of rail cars [of virgin material].” The reprocessor says recycled blow-mold-grade HDPE and film-grade low-density polyethylene (LDPE) also are losing out to cheap virgin material.

A reprocessor based in southeastern Canada, with operations in that country and in the U.S., says she is seeing very different market conditions for the two materials her company purchases: mixed rigid plastics and Grade B film. The company separates and reprocesses PP and HDPE from mixed rigid bales.

Conditions are “solid” for PP, she says, while HDPE has declined in pricing because of the volume of virgin and off-spec material available, though demand remains.

The decline in pricing for virgin PE grades has affected film-grade recycled materials in particular, the reprocessor based in Canada says, because postconsumer resin (PCR) is seen as “a cheaper alternative and not adding any value. People are not looking for recycled content in garbage and grocery bags.”

However, she says she is hopeful that California’s law that increases the PCR content in reusable plastic bags from 20 percent to 40 percent in 2020 will spur purchasing of recycled film grades.

The reprocessor based in Canada says her company and a coalition it belongs to have been working with brands and manufacturers to experiment with using higher levels of PCR in film. She adds, “I think additional legislation is needed to boost this part of the industry. We are asking governments at all levels what they can be doing to increase film demand.”

Her company is part of the Recycle More Bags coalition, which proposes using legislative action and procurement policy to drive demand for a minimum of 20 percent PCR content in some types of plastic bags by 2025.

The coalition says domestic film markets have been impeded by the expansion of the domestic oil and gas industry and the low-cost virgin plastic resins that are produced as co-products.

According to the “2017 National Post-Consumer Non-Bottle Rigid Plastic Recycling Report” and the “2017 National Post-Consumer Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Report,” domestic purchasing in both these categories increased by 2 percent. However, overall recycling decreased in 2017 because China’s policy to restrict imports of scrap heavily affected film and nonbottle rigid plastics that were not properly sorted.

“I think additional legislation is needed to boost this part of the industry. We are asking governments at all levels what they can be doing to increase film demand.” – a reprocessor based in Canada