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Report for the USA

The second half of 2022 has been increasingly gloomy for the US market, with major drops in prices for all recycled plastics. This decline has attracted competitive export buyers from around the globe, including from Europe, Asia and, to a lesser extent, Mexico.

PET market demand remains strong despite the fall from the high price levels seen at the start of the year. This almost-50% price correction has caused domestic PET reclaimers to struggle to sell their end-product at a profit. The main reasons for the initial collapse were fear of recession and weak rPET demand.

In California, this also came at a time of high summer volumes adding to the downward pressure. Major fibre manufacturers and producers have cut production of consumer goods. The price fall is a combination of high energy prices, inflation and fears of a weak economy. It will be a couple of months before prices rise as winter volumes decrease and rPET manufactures sell off their old inventory.

PET thermoform recycling has witnessed plenty of interest and investment, and there is potential for growth as packaging legislation highlights the need for a sustainable waste solution.

In the polyethylene market, natural HDPE prices have suffered a major correction from the inflated levels of last year, and demand for this commodity remains stable. The prices are undergoing a gentle decline rather than the collapse seen among other recyclables, ensuring a softer fall for the industry. There is a healthy infrastructure for this material and plenty of domestic and export options.

In contrast, HDPE colour has witnessed a price drop and flat demand. An interesting development in California is the appetite for mixed HDPE bales as the agricultural harvest finishes and farmers begin their cyclical maintenance routines, pushing up demand for the end-product as they look to fix or upgrade irrigation pipes and tubes as well as drip tapes.

Clear LDPE has stumbled over recent months as a major buyer cancelled contracts for collection of stretch film from major box stores. Recently, the export market has stepped in and provided some stability, but the domestic market is still sluggish.

Virgin polypropylene resin has seen a 50% drop in pricing and consequently recycled PP has seen a dramatic decline of over 60% in the last month. There remains a market for rPP and the low pricing has made it an attractive option, but in some cases buyers are charging suppliers freight fees to pick up loads just to move inventory.

Polystyrene is the least sought-after commodity; if sorted and clean, however, expanded polystyrene has value and a stable market both domestically and for export. This is not the case for rigid PS bales, for which the market is currently weak with low to limited demand.

There has been a renewed interest in mixed rigid bales (HDPE/PP/LDPE) from both domestic and export buyers looking for all olefin bales, notably from South East Asia and Mexico.

Likewise, mixed plastic bales (1-7) generated from reclaimers’ reject stream have seen an uptick in demand, mainly from secondary MRFs looking to sort for greater quality and value.

All in all, 2022 has been a wild ride for the plastics recycling industry, with prices hitting all-time highs and lows in a short space of time and thus causing economic disruption.

Reclaimers continue to upgrade and invest in anticipation of greater demand driven by legislative mandates that have come into effect.

It does not look like the final quarter of this year will bring much of an upturn given current energy prices and recessionary fears. By the spring of 2023, however, there may be some improvement, with a return to stability and higher prices.