PET availability is limited, and costs are growing.

Melt Filters

One reprocessor claims that bale quality has not improved despite record-high PET bale pricing.

Scrap availability is tight, according to a bottle-to-bottle polyethylene terephthalate (PET) reprocessor in the Midwest, with bale prices at record highs as of the beginning of May. She claims that recycled-content mandates in the European Union are largely to blame for the spike in demand and pricing.

“The European market is currently very tight, which is affecting any imports into the United States as product is redirected to Europe, where price is higher than in the United States,” says the PET reclaimer.

Despite the record-high bale prices, she claims that her company’s bale yield has barely improved.

Demand for recycled PET has pushed its price higher than that of virgin PET, which is also at record highs, according to the recycler.

“PET has risen,” a thermoplastic recycler on the West Coast adds, “but PE/PP (polyethylene/polypropylene) has held its own beautifully.”

He also mentions that the supply of injection-grade high-density polyethylene (HDPE) has become scarce.

“There is concern that with such high inflation, demand for items will have to drop down at some point,” says a source on the West Coast. “On the other hand, time will tell.” When end customers believe they will be able to obtain cheaper material in the near future, I believe they will buy less or only what they require to keep going.”

Meanwhile, he claims that domestic demand is strong, with regrind and recycled pellets selling well.

The limited supply is due in part to poor collection rates in the United States. According to the “2020 U.S. Post-consumer Plastic Recycling Data Report,” which was sponsored by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), the Foundation for Plastic Recycling, The Recycling Partnership, and the U.S. Plastics Pact, most major categories of plastics recovered for recycling in 2020, the most recent year for which data are available, decreased compared to 2019.

In 2020, the PET bottle recycling rate dipped 1.2 percentage points to 27.1 percent, while the HDPE bottle recycling rate dropped 2.1 percentage points to 28.8%.

In a news release announcing the report’s availability, Steve Alexander, president and CEO of the Washington-based APR, said, “We need greater supply.” “Our industry is confronted with major problems that require rapid attention. We must concentrate our efforts on technologies that are now operational. Mechanical recyclers have the potential to process more material, but there isn’t enough of it to meet demand for postconsumer resin right now. Expanding and streamlining recycling collection operations, decreasing contamination through design for recyclability, and reducing labeling confusion should all be top concerns.”

The analysis “shows that we need investment in the US recycling system to enhance the recycling rate for all commodities, including plastics,” says Keefe Harrison, CEO of The Recycling Partnership in Falls Church, Virginia.

In addition to supply, transportation is tough to come by, and prices are high, according to the Midwest reprocessor, in part due to record fuel prices. “Even though we’re getting record amounts of requests from new freight vendors, we’re scheduling loads further in advance and paying more.”

She claims that transportation into Canada is tough to get and that it is now two to three times as expensive as it was six months ago.

The PET reprocessor claims that “bulk transportation is substantially tighter.”

Transportation concerns, according to a recycler on the West Coast, have alleviated somewhat. “Rates aren’t as low as we’d like,” he says, but availability has improved as the “frenzied speed of demand on the trucking end of things has slowed down a little.”

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