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The US post-consumer plastic markets are strong and demand is high for certain materials, but some others have seen a decline.

PET undoubtedly fits into the former category: bale supply is tight amid high demand, with capacity increases putting a further strain on the requirement for feedstock. Simultaneously, there have been cost increases impacting both inland and ocean freight, while port congestion and driver shortages are providing another source of stress. Recycling facilities are also contending with staff shortages owing to COVID infections.

All of this has been occurring against the backdrop of an anticipated price increase for virgin PET.

Meanwhile, the US Plastics Pact - which brings together businesses, not-for-profit organizations, government agencies, research institutions and other stakeholders - has set sustainable targets for the removal of problematic and unnecessary materials, identifying 11 packaging-related products and materials that are “not currently reusable, recyclable or compostable at scale” in the USA.

In the natural HDPE market, there is evidence of buyers returning to virgin resin because of high inventories as well as elevated prices for the recycled alternative; however, demand has remained strong and steady. For coloured HDPE, the COVID-related contraction in the automotive industry led to a price drop but, more recently, demand from the pipe sector has resulted in an increase.

LDPE is witnessing a consistently strong market for higher-quality material, not least due to an increased requirement from the construction industry. In contrast, lower-grade and coloured LDPE are struggling to find markets amid only intermittent interest from export buyers.

Polypropylene is seeing continued growth as a post-consumer resin for which infrastructure and capacity are slowly growing, especially on the US West Coast. The market for expanded polystyrene is stable both domestically and for export, whereas the market share for rigid polystyrene is shrinking as more producers switch to PET.

Overall, the US plastics recycling industry has seen growth and new investment as a result of the combination of mandates and strengthened brand commitments. Collection rather than capacity remains a key issue, especially for PET.