It has been a tough year for the recycling industry given an unexpected slump in sales, volumes and pricing. It is thought that fear of recession has hit both consumers and industry alike, resulting in curbed spending.
It has been an unprecedented summer in California, with PET volumes unusually low but demand consistent. This has caused bale prices to increase owing to limited material availability. As bale prices steadily rise, imported rPET remains incredibly cheap. Bale prices dictate that California’s PET reclaimers should be selling washed flake at the existing price of virgin PET; unfortunately, imported post-consumer flake is up to 10 cents per pound lower, meaning that imported rPET flake is being delivered to reclaimers’ customers at less than their cost of production. The rest of the USA is not experiencing the same impact as the West Coast.
The US anti-dumping policy for PET resin is almost at 100% duty tax for Chinese and Indian loads, in contrast to 6.5% for the rest of the world. Mexico has instigated its own import duty of 25% for countries without a commercial treaty, up from 9%. PET resin shipments from Mexico to the USA are 26% lower this year when compared to 2022.
All in all, it has been a flat market for PET, with lower-than-expected volumes and import pressures. In California, expansion of the Bottle Bill to include more material types will see a surge of more than 2 million bottles in the programme which, it is hoped, will bring about an increase in material for reclamation.
Like PET, HDPE natural and colour have seen prices plummet in recent weeks. The price for natural was US$ 0.70 per lb at the start of June but had fallen steeply to US$ 0.25 by mid-July and to US$ 0.20 by the end of August. September brought a rebound to July levels, suggesting the bottom has been reached. The market for natural is stable and consistent. HDPE colour was hit hard earlier in the summer, dropping as low as US$ 0.05 per lb. In August and early September, the price doubled as pipe manufacturers increased their purchases. The export market has also strengthened, offering prices of US$ 0.11 per lb. However, most HDPE is remaining onshore as the market slowly recovers.
The LDPE market has been flat for the last six months as a result of a major decking manufacturer pulling out of the market, leaving few alternative buyers. At the time of writing, the price is around US$ 0.15 per lb for export and in the high teens for domestic business.
The PP markets are flat, with East Coast buyers pulling back on purchases. Kerbside bales are averaging US$ 0.05 per lb and higher-quality bales US$ 0.12. Mexico has emerged as a reliable purchaser and is keeping the market from a decline.
At the time of writing, grade A densified polystyrene has a healthy market for both export and domestic loads at, respectively, US$ 0.18 and US$ 0.20 per lb. The higher-grade PS markets are solid and have avoided the wild swings seen for other recycled resins. There are few options for lower-grade PS and a limited number of buyers.
It has been a strange summer characterized by low volumes and market uncertainty. Post-consumer resins are struggling with three major issues: cheap imports; lacklustre markets; and depressed commodity prices. It is hoped that the start of 2024 will see a return of confidence and strengthening prices to the recycling market.