Nashville, Tenn. — Plastics recyclers in China, impacted by their government's crackdown on imported scrap materials, still have interest in setting up operations in the United States.
But they are now more focused on finding locations in Asia that they will be able to get up and running more quickly, said Steve Wong, managing director of Fukutomi Co. Ltd.
Wong, who lives in Los Angeles and has recycling operations in Asia, has been a voice helping explain and decipher the impacts of China's National Sword program on countries around the world that once heavily relied on that market.
He also serves as executive president of the China Scrap Plastics Association, which was at the recent Plastics Recycling 2018 conference in Nashville to continue exploring opportunities for the group's members in the United States.
“Over there, it's not so complicated,” Wong said about establishing operations in other Asian countries such as Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand. “Over there, you rent a warehouse while you get your license. Also, these places, the cooperation from authorities is OK, you don't get kicked out.”
But in the United States, the process to establish and start running a plastics recycling operation is “much more complicated,” he said. “The Chinese come over here to get a license, it's not easy.”
“I was talking about, last year, many people coming over here. Actually, it's still right, many people come over here. But they are thinking and thinking and thinking,” he said, before establishing operations.
Jason Wang is vice chairman and secretary general at the China Scrap Plastics Association and was part of the contingency in Nashville.
He believes China's decision will ultimately be good for domestic recycling in that country as well as in other countries throughout the world, including the United States.
“I think the impact to the American trade industry is a good thing for the America companies,” he said through a translator. “You get a different result when you look at things from a different angle. To Chinese companies, they either have to invest in other countries or recycle materials in China or they just change their business. Even though China does not import materials anymore,” the country still has a great need for recycled plastics to make new products, he said.
That means China will have to collect more of its own used plastics. And that will improve the environment, he said.
Another obstacle facing U.S.-based recyclers is the fact that they face import duties if they send recycled pellets to China while importers from other Asian countries are not subject to the same treatment, Wong said.
For a company like Fukutomi, with facilities in China and Hong Kong, keeping operations successful in Asia while also trying to create a new location in the United States would be challenging. Wong said he would consider creating a reprocessing facility in the United States one day, if he was able to retire from his other businesses, which are far away and take up his time now.
As for National Sword, Wong believes the program is permanent, and not just a temporary measure. “I don't see any chance that China will reverse,” he said.