- Countries around the world dramatically increased the amount of scrap plastic they imported in 2017, according to data from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI). Thailand imported 1,041 metric tons of PE in 2016 and 10,153 metric tons of PE in 2017, a 876% increase. Vietnam saw 166% growth of the material and India saw 50% growth.
- Spain, Malaysia, Thailand and Mexico all imported more metric tons of mixed plastic, showing 727.9%, 292.5% 150.2% And 88% growth, respectively. Malaysia and Mexico, at 37,694 metric tons and 24,386 metric tons respectively, imported the most by raw total. This data matches with reporting by Reuters out of Malaysia that shows recyclers gearing up to benefit from China's new policies.
- PVC and PET also grew in countries including Vietnam, Turkey, India and Malaysia. Vietnam imported 7,759 metric tons in 2016 and 18,384 metric tons in 2017, a 137% increase. Malaysia saw a 63% increase in PET imports and a 407% increase in PVC imports.
PE and PET imports have increased in Southeast Asia
|PE (metric tons)||Country||2016 (Jan-Nov)||2017 (Jan-Nov)||%Change|
|PET (metric tons)||Country||2016 (Nov-Jan)||2017 (Nov-Jan)||%Change|
Mixed plastics have increased in Mexico, Spain and Southeast Asia
|PVC (metric tons)||Country||2016 (Jan-Nov)||2017 (Jan-Nov)||%Change|
|Mixed plastics (metric tons)||Country||2016 (Nov-Jan)||2017 (Nov-Jan)||%Change|
All these markets experienced this growth as China was making known its intention to limit and outright ban the import of some material. The initial announcement came in July, and markets have been reacting since.
While data from just two years is not enough to draw substantial conclusions about complex and shifting global markets, there is a clear trend toward sending material to Southeast Asia. What remains unclear is whether that trend will continue, especially as some express concern that other nations may follow Beijing’s lead and ramp up restrictions on scrap imports. Questions also remain about whether the labor and environmental standards in these countries will be any different than the ones that reportedly spurred China's new policy in the first place.
The other nations also fall far short of the total tonnage of material that China has imported over the last several years. China, between 2005-2015, imported half or nearly half of all plastic scrap globally. Reports indicate that new markets are developing, but not at a speed quick enough to instantaneously fill the gap left by China cracking down on import quality and limiting import licenses.
While improving bale quality is important, Chinese officials have made it clear that they are not wavering on a 0.5% contamination standard for most material. It will continue to be critical to develop markets in other parts of the globe, especially as MRFs become backlogged with material and stockpiling occurs around the U.S. While there has been buzz about the U.S. manufacturing industry kicking into high gear, opening paper mills or plastic manufacturing plants are long-term projects that cannot be an immediate salve.