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Plastics recyclers struggling with shipping cost and image issues

Global – The plastics recycling industry is facing ‘unprecedented challenges’ in the form of ‘the plethora of misconceptions and myths’ about plastics recycling and ‘the sharp increase in freight costs, particularly on lanes bound for Asia’, according Surendra Patawari Borad of Gemini Corp., the chairman of BIR’s plastics committee.

He confesses himself ‘appalled’ by comments from the Central Pollution Board of India suggesting the recycling of plastics is harmful to humans. ‘I wish I could convey to them that in the UK, for example, there is a voluntary agreement to have a minimum 30% recycled content in milk containers; this will gradually be raised to 50%,’ he says. Recent developments in China have ‘further aggravated’ the problem of a negative image as the country’s government has made plastics recycling the primary target of its movement against illegal imports of scrap.

Pointing to the ‘enormous’ reduction in carbon dioxide emissions achieved through the recycling of plastics, he adds: ‘We must spread the word about the benefits of plastics recycling. At the moment, only 14% of the world’s plastic packaging is being recycled. If the recycling industry is not looked upon favourably, then the rate of recycling will not increase.’

Meanwhile, ‘extreme’ fluctuations in freight rates – including ‘instant’ hikes of up to 45% to firm up a booking – have translated into missed sales or stock failures for the sector. ‘These sudden, incredible rate increases have had a tremendous impact on low-value cargoes of recyclable materials,’ Patawari Borad contends. ‘There needs to be dialogue between the shippers and shipping lines to ensure rates are increased in an orderly fashion.’

According to Dr Steve Wong of Fukutomi Company Limited, executive president of the China Scrap Plastics Association, the global plastic scrap market ‘is set to be reshaped’ by China’s imminent import bans on solid waste. Under a new programme approved by the country’s president Xi Jinping, there is a proposal for staged bans on scrap imports – ‘with substantial cuts by type and volume to be implemented once the import directory for solid waste has been revised’. Some rumours are even implying a complete ban on Chinese imports of waste plastic by the end of 2018, he adds.

China imports some 8m tons of plastic scrap per year, absorbing well over 60% of global exports.

According to Marc-Antoine Belthé of Veolia Propreté France Recycling, demand remains good for clear grades of PET but sales of coloured lots on the European market are proving difficult. As for post-consumer HDPE, an undynamic first quarter of relatively low prices has been followed by a slight stirring of demand, notably from Italy and Spain.

This article is based on the latest World Mirror on Plastics produced by the BIR world recycling organisation for the benefit of its members.

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