In reading the many stories in Plastics News regarding the plastics industry's challenges from China, I offer this response. The members of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers, the trade association of PET and high density polyethylene bottle reclaimers, have witnessed from a new perspective the much-publicized problems caused by discount Asian textile exports to the United States.
The damage inflicted on the U.S. fiber-manufacturing industry by cheap imports is irreparable. Thousands in the Southeast, such as the Pillowtex workers in Kannapolis, N.C., represent generations of working families that have lost their livelihood. Ironically, the breakdown of the U.S. manufacturing infrastructure is aggravated by the one thing that the Asian market is feverishly importing: our raw materials.
Post-consumer plastic bottles are being shipped to Asia at record levels. According to the National Association for PET Container Resources, since 1995 the percentage of exported post-consumer containers has reached 35 percent of the total collected, while the domestic recycling rate has fallen from 40 percent to less than 20 percent.
Competing for raw materials has always been part of the manufacturing ritual; however, unbalanced labor and manufacturing costs, unequal regulatory restrictions, sanctioned subsidies and disproportionate freight rates stagger the domestic reclaiming effort.
The 10 percent recycled-content commitment by Coke and Pepsi is a notable milestone for the plastics recycling industry. However, the escalated expense to keep raw materials from being exported is severely challenging this endeavor's full potential.
When foreign buyers are scrambling to hoard every pound of plastic they can find, the export market is irresistibly tempting for the raw material supplier, the local baler of bottles.
However, the legitimate domestic reclaimer is forced to compete for those raw materials under adverse circumstances that are not commensurate with U.S. market conditions. Eventually, just as every cycle evolves, the export fervor will subside.
How much of a domestic reclaiming infrastructure will still exist is unknown. The once-eager bale supplier may regrettably be left with only a fickle export market to consume his recyclables.
This issue impacts too many industries and personal lives [for people] to remain apathetically watching from the sidelines. APR is actively seeking to collaborate with other industries to bring this genuine message of concern to our federal and state elected officials, before it is too late to recover.