In the past year PET and high density polyethylene have continued to lead the recycling markets as the primary ``cash crops'' due to their widening acceptance in municipal curbside collections and the plethora of applications for them in recycled form. In late 1995, the export market for PET in the Far East dried up abruptly, with what reportedly was a government crackdown on profiteers in mainland China. The market for polyester to replace cotton in Chinese, Southeast Asian and Indian textile industries had driven a majority of the available PET scrap on the U.S. West Coast offshore, and prices had reached more than 60 cents per pound for pellets in some cases. After the crackdown, prices for PET regrind did not fall drastically as might be expected, but did fall to the 40-50 cent-per- pound range.
Prices for post-consumer and post-industrial recycled plastic flake and pellets have always been problematic to track, influenced as they are by diverse demand from a wide range of end-users, and by an often-iffy supply side.
HDPE recyclers are seeing a much steeper drop-off in prices from highs last year that saw regrind and recycled pellets at or near virgin resin prices. The fall of HDPE flake and pellet prices can be attributed to decreased demand on the part of some end users in the packaging industry, and limited sources of baled feedstocks.
Virgin resin prices also began to play a larger role in the pricing of recycled resins, as resin makers increased production and dropped prices on virgin HDPE, and recyclers were forced to follow suit. Many recyclers have struggled with the falling prices, even to the point of being forced out of business, or merging with larger firms.
Arthur Ferguson, president of Troy, Ala.-based KW Plastics Recycling, said he has seen feedstock baled-bottle prices drop drastically from near 40 cents per pound last year. The prices he can charge for his flake and pellets, have, of course fallen also.
``We are out there aggressively working in the market,'' he said in a telephone interview. ``We are not having trouble getting feedstocks now, and the prices are low right now, but I expect we have already begun to climb back up.''
Polypropylene and polystyrene recycled resins remain fairly constant in their prices, although recyclers see day-to-day fluctuations.
Prices for recycled ABS have fallen marginally, as supplies become more plentiful, and recycled polycarbonate prices have increased along with virgin PC prices, as demand has swelled for construction, electronics and packaging applications.
More than ever, some recyclers say, the competition for clean feedstocks is tough as demand for many recycled resins, driven either by legislation, or natural market forces, increase, and as markets mature, materials and prices should stabilize, or at least become more consistent.