BIR World Mirror on Plastics - Quarterly Report July/August 2022: Calls for urgent investment to ease plastics collection bottleneck
A concise summary of the BIR World Mirror on Plastics – Quarterly Report July/August 2022. Full version with detailed market reports available in the Members Only section of the BIR website.
The plastics price party of 2021 and early 2022 has been unceremoniously broken up.
In its place, uncertainties surrounding the Ukraine conflict, energy costs/supply and rising inflation have been putting pressure on the prices of recycled raw materials, according to BIR’s latest Plastics Mirror publication.
In place of record highs, substantial price drops have been seen for many recycled plastics, with polypropylene being hit hardest. At the other end of the scale, rPET continues to find support from minimum recycled content mandates and brand owners’ pro-environment commitments in Europe, Asia and North America.
As a further boost, the government of Thailand announced in June that packaging regulations would now allow the use of rPET in food-contact packaging, thereby adding to similar legislation in two of the other major South East Asian economies of Indonesia and Vietnam. This shift will enable greater use of rPET in bottles and other food-grade packaging within Thailand and will help brand owners to step up their recycled content commitments in the country.
Overall, however, signs of a more cautious business approach are clear to see: end-processors are proving to be more reluctant about ordering raw materials and are using up existing stock rather than creating any more inventory. At the same time, some manufacturers are suspending weekend production in response to disappointing order levels. Ongoing personnel shortages and transportation difficulties have been adding to the already lengthy list of challenges facing the plastics sector.
Even PET Grade A scrap prices appear to have hit a plateau in the USA, for example, and are expected to gradually decline as summer volumes ease demand pressures. LDPE clear film is the exception to the generally downward trend in the USA as it remains a sought-after commodity for which prices are holding firm.
Owing to pandemic-related lockdowns, tight liquidity and disappointing seasonal factors, China is still under heavy pressure in terms of demand for manufactured goods. As a result, prices for most materials - including recycled - have been on a downtrend in recent months.
Furthermore, recyclers in Asia are faced with a widening plastics price gap to the USA and Europe, with the result that scrap is becoming more challenging to buy.
Two other developments have removed quantities of plastic scrap from the market: Hong Kong’s environmental protection department has recently stepped up the import requirements applying to plastic waste; and from July 1 this year, Australia has been limiting exports of waste plastics to what has been sorted into a single resin or polymer type and further processed (for example, flaked or pelletized), or processed with other materials into processed engineered fuel.
The 2021/early 2022 recycled materials price rally combined with legislation favouring recycled content to spark massive investments in recycling capacity across the globe - to the extent, it is now contended, that collection to feed this expanded capacity is now the real bottleneck for the recycling industry, leading to calls for urgent investment in collection solutions.