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Recycled plastic markets in the USA are continuing to expand, with prices increasing in many cases as national discussions on plastics recycling dominate the industry.

US PET reclaimers are continuing to increase their capacities, resulting in strong demand for supply. This is especially true on the East Coast where kerbside bale prices have tripled since the start of the year, with some buyers offering up to US$ 0.50 per lb. This inflation has put pressure on West Coast reclaimers, who are struggling to compete. By contrast, West Coast PET A grade (deposit) bale prices have dropped and stabilized as Californian reclaimers upgrade equipment, resulting in sluggish demand. As upgrades come online and demand escalates, prices may increase slightly or stay flat with summer volumes meeting the need.

Currently, West Coast PET A grade is averaging US$ 0.44 per lb, rPET clear flake across the USA has reached as high as US$ 1 per lb and rPET pellets remain at a high of almost US$ 1.20 per lb. PET resin prices are on a par with rPET.

There is continuing demand from outside the USA, especially from Europe, but this has been less aggressive than in the first quarter of 2022. This is due to the increase in summer volumes, high freight/fuel costs and ongoing shipping delays.

Natural HDPE prices have stabilized after last year’s record-breaking highs. Demand remains strong among both US and Mexican buyers, thus keeping supply and demand in balance. In contrast, HDPE colour has seen a price surge as pipe manufacturers raise their production needs: the average for the East and West Coast is up at around US$ 0.32 per lb. Natural prices are steady at US$ 0.56 per lb.

Clear LDPE has seen an increase in value, with the demand coming from decking manufacturers who have expanded capacity. For grade B LDPE, it is bag manufacturers who are pushing demand as they need to meet state mandates requiring 40% recycled content. There is competition from Mexican buyers who are further influencing the grade B market but who are struggling to compete given the added logistics cost.

The PP market has seen plenty of industry interest, including growth in financial commitments to help with its development. PP continues to expand as a commodity, with more MRFs sorting the material. However, the impediment to growth remains at the MRF level, with many still not separating tubs and lids from mixed plastic bales. The largest US reclaimer of PP is pushing for greater sortation and separation so as to grow the market. Mexico is emerging as a potentially large player in the PP arena as it is beginning to further sort and separate mixed plastic bales.

Forward momentum within this emerging market is indicated by the increase in values. In 2020, it was selling at an average of US$ 0.10 per lb and by 2021 had jumped to US$ 0.20. The steep rise has continued this year, with prices currently at US$ 0.27 per lb on the West Coast and US$ 0.42 on the East.

PS is the least sought-after commodity although, if sorted and clean, EPS has value and a stable market both for export and domestically. This is not the case for mixed PS bales that have limited to no value and for which the market is flat.

Overall in the past 12 months, US reclaimers have invested greatly in their facilities, increasing capacity and efficiency. The result has been stronger markets and an increase in bale prices. The cost of fuel and logistic issues have tempered the export market. The introduction of recycled content mandates and industry commitments - as a response to growing public awareness - have created a solid and substantial industry in the USA with the potential for further growth.