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China & South East Asia

The following table shows recent prime prices taken from China’s major virgin polymer websites, quoted in Renminbi (RMB) which has an exchange rate of 6.7980 to the US dollar at the time of writing:

Plastics China SEA

In early February, crude oil prices have fallen around 3% in New York to US$ 73.39 per barrel amid robust US job data that might prompt interest rate hikes, which in turn would entail high borrowing costs and thus impact the global economy. 

General PS, ABS, PP and PE prime prices remain stable to weak while engineering plastic resins such as polycarbonate, POM and PMMA have been trending higher after the Chinese New Year. Globally, petrochemical companies in Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Jordan, Indonesia and Malaysia have quoted price increases of U$S 20-60 per ton for polypropylene and polyethylene on rising feedstock costs. It is questionable whether downstream manufacturers will be able to pass on these increases owing to the sluggish global economy.

In China, the manufacturing PMI rose to 50.1 in January. The manufacturing and service sectors are continuing to expand as a consequence of the country’s emergence from zero-COVID restrictions and the resumption of industrial operations after the Chinese New Year holidays. Market players expect overseas buyers to start placing orders shortly owing to lower shipping rates while the Federal Reserve’s recent 25-basis-point interest hike indicates a slowing of the cycle of increases. Hopefully, these factors will drive more optimistic market sentiment. 

Recycled materials are not necessarily reflecting prime trends because prime prices are still so cheap that manufacturers might opt not to use the recycled alternatives. Prices for some PVC, PET, PP and PE off-grade are as low as US$ 800-900 per ton and so many factories have stopped using recycled materials for economic reasons.

In the USA and Europe where recycled materials and post-consumer recycled materials had previously attracted a premium, these are now selling in some instances for less than had been the case before. Notably, HDPE, LDPE, PP and PS recycled pellets have been offered at US$ 750-800 per ton. Post-consumer recycled material prices are higher than those for post-industrial recycled materials but are still half of what they were before. Recyclers are now offering recycled materials to Asia while Asian recyclers are seeking outlets in Western countries. The USA has been importing PET from the Far East at US$ 1100-1200 per ton CNF Los Angeles. Engineering plastics are experiencing the same as general plastics, with recycled PMMA, PET, ABS and Nylon now being offered to buyers on social media.

During the pandemic, there was a price disconnect between East and West; now, the price gap has narrowed as a result of reduced shipping rates and production overcapacity associated with poor demand. Market players expect these conditions to persist for a while until China’s economy recovers, inflation is controlled and the recession is over.

Scrap plastics are in abundant supply from the USA and Europe as domestic markets suffer from low prices and demand. Prices for post-consumer wastes have dropped by more than half compared to last year but recyclers might not benefit from these vast reductions as their downstream customers are also offering lower prices owing to a sluggish economy and poor economic activity. Some factories have stopped buying or are closing their factories temporarily until markets improve. Several conglomerate-run recyclers are out of the business following poor financial results. As prices are so low, even developed countries’ recyclers cannot maintain their operations from the financial perspective. Overcapacity is now an issue not only in Asia but also in developed countries.

Our industry’s future depends on the variable prices of crude oil, prime materials and recycled materials. Additionally, the future of the recycling industry lies in mandatory use of recycled materials to help achieve environmentally sound waste management through circular economy-led sustainability programmes.