Nashville, Tenn. — Many plastic recyclers are probably making their best quality bales ever, but the seismic shifts in the marketplace, thanks to China's National Sword program, have people still scrambling to move the material.
That's the view of Hamilton Wen, director of the plastics division at Newport CH International LLC of Orange, Calif., a broker of recycled plastics.
Global market conditions for recycled plastics are evolving due to the implementation of China's National Sword, which essentially banned the import of a variety of recycled materials into that country, including plastics.
"It's tough, just because you are making the best quality you ever have, which you probably are right now. Let's be honest, the stuff you are making is probably better than it's ever been. You are probably also getting paid historically very low pricing for it," Wen said.
There was a time, really not that long ago, when exporting recycled plastics essentially meant selecting a buyer in China.
"Basically, before, when we used to get plastics, the question was where in China do we send it? Which port is the best port? Where are the best customers for it?" Wen said. "Now that's completely off the table.
"We've had to completely shift, look for new markets, basically anywhere in the world. So places we've never looked at before," he said. "It's pretty much a complete upheaval, our entire plastics brokerage business.
"Previously it was really a seller's market, right? We can all agree," he said. "It's really shifted to who has the best material. We look for quality because there's not enough venues to take the stuff, so they're being extremely picky with what they want to buy, the price they are willing to accept. The strategy, how we trade, has all changed," he said at the recent Plastics Recycling 2018 conference in Nashville.