National Harbor, Md. — GDB International Inc. was completely happy with simply baling and exporting recycled plastic to China for further processing for years.
But the New Brunswick, N.J.-based company said that country's ban on scrap imports of all types caused the recycler to reassess its market strategy.
It was either reassess or go out of business, President Sunil Bagaria said.
When China swung its National Sword — the name of its effort to essentially ban imports of plastic and other recyclables — GDB decided to make an investment in its own equipment to process recycled film and pelletize the resin for sale in the United States.
"There is an opportunity. The ban that is taking place is an opportunity for the plastics industry in America," he said at the Plastics Recycling Conference and Trade Show, held in National Harbor near Washington, D.C.
The 14th annual show attracted some 2,000 attendees associated with plastics recycling and is the first to take place after its recent sale to the Association of Plastic Recyclers, a trade group, by Resource Recycling Inc. of Portland, Ore.
"It's important to seize the opportunity," Bagaria said.
After China imposed import restrictions, plastic recycling processing migrated to other countries in Southeast Asia, but those countries also are now restricting imports after dealing with problems created by the influx of material.
And that, Bagaria said, should be proof that countries that generate used plastics need to be handle their own processing and reuse.
"The long-lasting solution is the society that produces the scrap really must be responsible," he said.
U.S. recyclers long relied on exports to handle much of the used plastic the country generated, but having that outlet caused the U.S. plastic recycling infrastructure to lag behind the overall need, he said.
And while the plastics industry has long touted the value of its recycled material, shipping large quantities of the material offshore sent the wrong message to customers, he said.
"If it is a valuable material for other countries, then it is a valuable material for our country," he said.
Bagaria is out to prove just that by investing more than $1 million on three recycled film processing lines in New Brunswick.
"There is more money to be made by selling the pellets to them than by selling the scrap," he said.
Bagaria described National Sword as the shock his company needed to change its business model, even though that has been a challenge. "Don't get me wrong, this is not an easy thing to do."