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United States

For the US plastics recycling industry, the start of 2024 has brought uncertainty and a continuation of the flat market conditions seen at the end of 2023. There has been little change and demand remains steady but lacklustre in most of the post-consumer resin markets.

In California, winter PET volumes have been low, causing a slight increase in bale prices despite the lack of demand from end-users of rPET. The price climb is a result of assertive buyers from Mexico trying to meet the demand resulting from a recent capacity increase in the country.

As bale prices steadily rise, imported rPET remains incredibly cheap and significant volumes have been arriving from Asia, Mexico and South America. This influx has made it virtually impossible for US reclaimers to compete, thus putting pressure on their profitability. Capacity is down and some reclaimers are running reduced shifts.

All in all, it is a tough time for PET reclaimers. However, it is hoped that the recent increase in freight costs owing to the issues in the Red Sea region will help California’s reclaimers to be more competitive with the cheaper imports and encourage end-use buyers back into the domestic market. It remains to be seen for how long and to what extent this geopolitical situation will impact the market.

Another positive has been California’s good strawberry harvest which will mean packaging manufacturers requiring more PET, both virgin and recycled.

Natural HDPE has not experienced the same impact from cheap imports as PET and remains balanced in terms of supply and demand. As a result, prices have remained flat with little fluctuation. The piping industry has seen a rise in demand, pushing up prices of colour HDPE to as much as US$ 0.04 per lb.

For grade A LDPE film, the market has seen a slight uptick owing to competitive interest from both domestic and export buyers, whereas grade B LPDE film has seen little change amid sluggish demand.

As for several other commodities, the markets are currently flat for PP. However, the long-term outlook is promising, especially in California where Mexico and other export outlets are buying consistently.

Currently, grade A densified PS has a secure market for both export and domestic bales but other lower-grade PS and EPS have few options and limited buyers. This situation has been compounded by the fact that many jurisdictions are banning PS foodservice packaging.