Beyond dealing with an economic downturn and tougher government regulations aimed at cutting pollution from their factories, China's plastics recyclers are also trying to sort out a squabble about who can best represent the industry.
A new industry trade group has cropped up, the China Scrap Plastics Association, to compete with an older, more established group that is part of the plastics industry's biggest umbrella trade group, the Beijing-based China Plastics Processing Industry Association.
At a recent conference in Beijing, the newcomers at the CSPA made their case.
In public comments at the event, Chinese-American plastic recycling executive Paul Yan waded directly into the arguments, saying the separation of the industry is not good. Then he endorsed the new group.
“I think this association can provide better service,” said Yan, president of Rancho Dominguez, Calif.-based PolyWin Corp., which has three factories in China. “As an association member, I just hope that one of you can strengthen the communication with the government.”
In an interview after his public comments, Yan said, “I think this one can be better. I don't say the other one is bad.”
He said it's a topic actively discussed among Chinese recyclers now, and it's confusing to many in the industry.
Adding to the confusion, Beijing-based CSPA has chosen the same name for its conference, ChinaReplas, as the CPPIA group, called the Plastics Recycling Committee of the CPPIA. PRC-CPPIA has organized ChinaReplas conferences annually since 2006. CSPA started this year.
The PRC-CPPIA said CSPA uses the ChinaReplas name to intentionally mislead the industry and build on work CPPIA did building the conference.
CSPA said it uses the name because a consulting company run by CSPA manager Jason Wang was involved in organizing all the previous Replas events under contract to CPPIA.
Wang was a top staffer at the PRC-CPPIA until he left in late 2011 in a dispute with association leaders and formed CSPA along with some companies.
CSPA held its Replas Nov. 6-7 in Beijing, while the PRC-CPPIA group held its Replas conference Nov. 5-6 in Ningbo.
A board member of the CSPA, Alex Xie, an executive with Hong Kong-based plastic recycler Lung Shing International Group Ltd., said the new group was formed because of unhappiness with the CPPIA group. He said competition among trade associations is normal.
The plastics recycling industry is sensitive, and has to be very close to the government, he said. The CPPIA group did not do a good enough job sharing information about government policies, he said.
CSPA companies “were not so happy with the old association,” he said at the Beijing conference. He said the main purpose of an association is to work with government on policies.
“If we cannot get that, the association is not helpful,” Xie said.
Beyond the leadership circles of the groups, however, the topic did not seem to matter much to companies.
Several smaller or midsize Chinese recycling companies at the event said they either had not heard of the fight between the two groups, or if they had, were not concerned, preferring to focus their attention at the conference on making new business contacts.
CSPA officials said their event had 400 participants, while the Ningbo event said it had about 300.
“Of course we're a little confused,” said Matthias Erdmannsdoerfer, president of Nashville, Tenn.-based National Recovery Technologies Inc., referring to the two events.
The company chose Beijing to exhibit its optical sorting equipment because of feedback from customers and potential customers, and felt the event provided them with “very good” customer contacts. China is the company's largest export market, he said.
One company that exhibited at both Ningbo and Beijing, however, said it felt the Ningbo event was better.
The company declined to be quoted by name because it did not want to upset either conference organizer, but a salesperson said: “I think the Ningbo fair was more interesting than this fair because Ningbo was bigger and you got more contacts.”