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Plastics: ‘plenty of disruptions’

Global – The European plastic scrap market embarked on ‘€˜a roller-coaster ride’€™ in the second and third quarters of this year as confidence ebbed and flowed ‘very quickly’ with any slight change in factors relating to plastic scrap, according to Surendra Patawari Borad of Belgium-based Gemini Corporation, the chairman of BIR’s plastics committee.

In April, the Indian government had confirmed a decision to ban plastic scrap imports. However, prices were buoyed in early July when the ministry of environment, forests and climate change announced that some of the plastic recyclers operating in the country’s Special Economic Zones would be allowed to import plastic scrap, leading to ‘aggressive’ purchasing activity among those buyers who had not bought any material in either of the previous two months.

‘LDPE film prices immediately jumped Euro 25-35 per ton,’ it is noted. August brought low demand from Asian markets and plastic scrap prices came under pressure, although the impact of summer holidays in Europe helped to underpin values to a large extent.

By the middle of the month, however, oil price gains boosted higher-grade plastics – particularly good-quality LDPE films. But the trade suffered another setback in September when major container line Hanjin Shipping filed for bankruptcy, leading to ‘plenty of disruption in the logistics world’.

Given low material availability, there was a general expectation in early September of higher plastic scrap prices on the European market – but prices remained the same for almost all polymers owing to ‘weak’ demand from Asia. With no clear direction in the market, many customers have refrained from buying large quantities.

According to Marc-Antoine Belthé of Veolia Propreté France Recycling, meanwhile, his domestic market has been witnessing ‘dramatic declines’ for blow-moulding grade HDPE but good demand for injection-grade HDPE.

China’s plastics recyclers are locked into ‘a very challenging business environment’, not least because of ‘frequent’ changes in the government’s environmental policies, according to Dr Steve Wong of Fukutomi Company Limited, executive president of the China Scrap Plastics Association. ‘Some companies have gone bankrupt not through a lack of business skills but because of the sudden enforcement of government policies that have forced factories to shut,’ he states.

‘More restrictions on scrap plastic imports are to be expected – but the timeline is not clear.’ As South East Asia is relatively stable in terms of regulatory policy, this is continuing to emerge as an ‘attractive’ region for the recycling industry with its low labour costs and import duties ‘helping to provide a competitive edge’, Wong adds.

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