China announced in 2017 that it will no longer be the world’s recycling center. The country said it will no longer accept old plastic bottles, newspapers and cardboard boxes. This decision was justified on the basis of their public’s health, but it has created a global crisis for countries that want to recycle their used materials. However, options do exist aside from burning it for energy or disposing of it. Let’s take a closer look at alternatives for exporters and the current state of the global recycled commodities market.
India became the top Asian market for recyclables. They had been second to China before the ban. Their volume rose 5 percent in 2017. Furthermore, they took in roughly 85,000 TEU that year. India had the highest growth in PE volume. India is starting to take in much more paper and resin materials for recycling.
Vietnam became the third market for recyclable materials. Traffic surged more than 200 percent in 2016, increasing from almost 10,000 TEU to 33,300 TEU. Vietnam increased their PE imports by almost 200 percent, while PET volumes rose by a smaller amount. Countries like Vietnam were attractive to traders because they had less stringent controls, fewer import regulations, and proximity to Chinese markets for shippers who don’t want to send ships empty to Asia.
Malaysia saw massive growth in recyclables, though they were not a major market before. They went from just over 3,000 TEU in 2016 to a little over 12,000 TEU in 2017. This is triple their prior volume. Malaysia is notable for taking in much more PE and PET plastics than before. Malaysia also quadrupled its PVC imports. The environmental impact of these plants, though, has led to new restrictions on waste imports. For example, Indonesia banned the import of certain types of plastic waste.
Taiwan’s recyclable volume grew by over a third after the Chinese ban. This caused it to hit nearly 20,000 TEU. However, this is a fraction of the several million TEU being shipped around the world.
Thailand saw its PE imports jump from just over a thousand metric tons to ten thousand metric tons. While this is a small volume by global standards, it is both 900 more TEUs and a ten-fold increase in scrap materials recycled. Thailand has been consistently increasing its PVC volumes as well.
The Impact on the United States
The decreased demand for recyclable materials by China dramatically increased the cost of shipping of these materials while destroying their value. This resulted in much more plastic ending up in landfills and incinerators. This is driving more companies to invest in a baling machine from sites like recyclingbalers.com. Vertical balers allow you to compress waste and package it in an easily transportable form, whether you send it to a local recycler or send it to the landfill. One benefit of this approach is that you aren’t competing with rivals for limited scrap commodities permits, and you don’t have to worry about containers full of your waste material being left in port.
Unfortunately, it is leading to the development of new landfills due to demand. Yet that is better than the unregulated dumps or open burning in low income countries that can cause serious environmental and health problems.
China’s recycling ban seriously impacted the global trade in recycled commodities. It is driving the trade to many other countries in the region while forcing them to find other solutions as well. But it’s also presenting new opportunities to recyclers who’ll have no choice but to change their approach and diversify their product offering to meet the new demand.
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