Prices for recycled plastic have caved because of China’s planned exit from the marketplace. Prices for bulk rigid scrap have plunged this year from 9 cents per pound to 2.5 cents per pound, according to plasticsmarkets.org, an online marketplace for recycled plastics.
China published plans to end scrap imports by the end of this year. Licenses of plastics scrap importers were already being pulled at the time of the announcement. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, China wants to force its plastics scrap buyers to use domestic supplies, which are growing. Close to half of America plastic scrap had been consumed by China until this year.
The screws began to tighten in four years ago when the Chinese government began to strictly enforce regulations on non-conforming materials in imported recycled paper and plastics as well as restricting the import of certain other plastic recyclables.
The situation creates a conundrum for environmental movements in the United States.
Recycling by American municipalities has tripled in the last 25 years. The commercial value of post-consumer plastic, considering cleaning and logistics costs, is moving closer to null. It could be diverted to waste-to-energy plants, but that approach is not popular with environmentalists. Landfilling is no longer an option in most areas. Increased use of recycled content in American manufactured goods is an option, but a very slow process.