BIR Convention: Plastic Supply Issues

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Plastic recyclers are struggling to satisfy orders, despite being grateful for the increased demand.

Plastics recyclers are benefiting from “huge demand and extraordinarily high pricing,” but they are having trouble finding enough feedstock to keep up with this “undoubted boom moment.”

Max Craipeau of Singapore-based Greencore Resources Ltd., who also chairs the Bureau of International Recycling’s Plastic Committee, made this discovery (BIR). The group convened in late May during the BIR World Recycling Convention in Barcelona.

More investment in the plastic scrap upstream collection, sorting, grinding, and washing infrastructure, according to Steve Wong of Hong Kong-based Fukutomi Recycling Ltd., who is also executive president of the China Sustainable Plastics Association. “Most factories in the Far East run at less than 20% of their capacity,” he claimed.

Increased shipping costs, according to Craipeau, are “actually constraining the flow of material globally.” A 40-foot container traveling from Asia to Europe or the United States cost roughly $2,500 two years ago, but today costs around $15,000, he said.

He mentioned the effects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, rising energy prices, inflation, and a labor shortage as some of the main problems facing the plastics recycling industry.

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Doug Woodring, founder and managing director of the Ocean Recovery Alliance, spoke about an effort aimed at increasing worldwide flows of high-quality recycled plastics. The Rebound Plastic Exchange, for which he serves as lead expert, is set to launch in late August.

According to Woodring, the platform would strive to be a transparent worldwide trade platform that facilitates bale, pellet, and flakes movements through “certification, verification, and trust.”

Previously, ministries and governments had received unfavorable press about the trade in used plastics and did not want to be “caught on the wrong side of the narrative,” according to Craipeau. The Exchange will try to build their confidence in global trade by implementing standardized facility inspection protocols and using well-known, global certification bodies, while also driving the innovation and investment required to boost circularity and propel the current global plastics recycling rate beyond its estimated 10% rate.

Woodring also noted a recurrent difficulty as a scarcity of feedstock, claiming that $56 billion in plastics processing infrastructure investment is necessary over the next five years, rising to $400 billion by 2040.

“Many, many big brands are now finally trying to get more recycled content into their goods,” Woodring said, citing Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Ikea, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever as examples of companies who are doing so. However, he told convention attendees that this was proving to be “a huge difficulty” because the requisite supply chains were not in place and “you can’t locate the feedstock.”

According to Woodring’s presentation, the recycled material industry is expected to rise by roughly 30% by 2025, from current levels of $45.6 billion. “For those of you in the recycling industry, this is a fantastic opportunity,” he remarked. However, he added, until the essential infrastructural investments are completed, the yearly shortfall of recycled material would be at least 6 million metric tons.

“We need uniformity at the collection level as well,” Sally Houghton of The Plastic Recycling Corp. of California said, referring to the Rebound Plastic Exchange’s focus on achieving consistency in inspection and quality.

The Exchange initiative, according to Natalia Cruz of Ferromolins SL in Spain, is “a very beneficial instrument” for those firms looking for solutions to circular economy difficulties.

The BIR World Recycling Convention 2022 was held in Barcelona from May 22 to 25.

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