Recycled plastics markets in the USA are continuing to expand, with prices for many increasing. The truth remains that the better-quality materials have stronger markets and solid demand.
In the first two quarters of 2021, US reclaimers increased their PET capacity, with those in California by up to 25%, which resulted in strong supply requirements. As a result, PET prices in the USA have more than doubled from the start of the year. Currently, West Coast PET A grade is averaging US$ 0.34 per lb while rPET clear flake across the USA has reached up to US$ 0.70 and rPET pellets remain at a high of almost US$ 0.90. PET resin prices remain flat, currently at around US$ 0.70 to 0.75 per lb. Resin producers anticipate production to be tight for the remainder of 2021.
There is continuing PET demand from outside the USA, especially from Europe although it is less aggressive than in the first quarter of this year owing to the increase in summer volumes, high freight costs and shipping line delays. It is anticipated that demand will stay strong but that summer volumes will put slight downward pressure on bale prices. Export continues to be problematic as it is not the supplier’s first choice. Sales to Mexico have slowed because an increase in that country’s domestic collections is easing demand; also, trucking and cross-border delays are frustrating suppliers.
Natural HDPE continues to break pricing records, with post-consumer bales reaching an average of US$ 1.05-1.10 per lb across the country as demand exceeds supply. More recycled content is being used in the manufacturing of all HDPE products, thereby stimulating demand. Likewise, colour HDPE has seen greater demand, with more use in industrial applications. Clear LDPE has seen an increase in value, selling at an average of US$ 0.30 per lb. The strength of demand is coming from aggressive California-based manufacturers who need to meet state mandates requiring 40% recycled content in bags. Lower-grade LDPE is struggling to find markets owing to the higher levels of contamination.
PP continues to be a growing commodity, with more MRFs sorting the material. This market growth is reflected in an increase in values: in 2020, it was selling at an average of US$ 0.10 per lb but in 2021 it has jumped to US$ 0.25. This is developing strong markets in the USA. California is in the process of debating future recyclability guidelines for this post-consumer resin.
PS is the least sought-after commodity; if sorted and clean, however, EPS has value and a stable export and domestic market. This is not the case for mixed PS bales which have limited to no value and for which the market is flat.
There are two major issues that could restrict growth for the recycling industry: labour and trucking shortages. Across the country, these two factors are causing problems that are curtailing expansion. If these concerns are overcome, US reclaimers will be operating at higher capacities and with greater efficiency by the end of the year.
The Plastic Recycling Corporation of California (USA), Board Member of the BIR Plastics Committee