BIR Barcelona Convention: Plastics Committee: Supply challenges temper talk of “boom time” for recyclers

  • 27 May 2022

Plastics Visual

Although plastics recyclers are enjoying the benefits of “massive demand and extremely high prices”, they are struggling to source sufficient feedstock to enable them to cope with this “undoubted boom time”, lamented board member Max Craipeau of Hong Kong-based Greencore Resources Ltd in chairing the latest meeting of the BIR Plastics Committee.

An initiative intended to enhance global flows of quality recycled plastics was described to the meeting by guest speaker Doug Woodring, Founder and Managing Director of Ocean Recovery Alliance. The Rebound Plastic Exchange, for which he is Lead Expert, is scheduled to go live in late August and will seek to serve as a transparent global trading platform aimed at facilitating movements of bales, pellets and flakes on the basis of “certification, verification and trust”.

In the past, ministries and governments have heard the negative publicity surrounding trade in used plastics and have not wanted to be “caught out on the wrong side of the story”, he acknowledged. By implementing standardized facility inspection protocols and using well-known, global certification bodies, the Exchange would look to build their confidence in this trade while at the same time driving the innovation and investment required to boost circularity and propel the current global plastics recycling rate beyond its lowly 10%.

Identifying lack of feedstock as the main challenge, the guest speaker contended that investment of US$ 56 billion is required in the plastics processing infrastructure over the next five years, rising to US$ 400 billion by 2040. “Many, many big brands now finally are trying to get more recycled content into their products,” he said, naming Nestlé, Coca-Cola, Ikea, P&G and Unilever by way of examples. However, this was proving to be “a giant challenge” because the necessary supply chains were not in place and “you cannot find the feedstock”.   

According to Mr Woodring’s presentation, the market for recycled material is forecast to grow around 30% from 2020 levels to US$ 45.6 billion by 2025. “This is a very great opportunity for those of you in the recycling industry,” he declared. But until the necessary infrastructure investments had been made, the annual shortfall of recycled material would be a minimum of 6 million tonnes, he argued.

Dr Steve Wong of Fukutomi Recycling Limited, who is also Executive President of the China Sustainable Plastics Association, identified an urgent need for more investment in the upstream collection, sorting, grinding and washing infrastructure. In the Far East, he maintained, “most factories operate at less than 20% of their capacities”.

Noting the Rebound Plastic Exchange’s focus on achieving consistency in inspection and quality, Sally Houghton of The Plastic Recycling Corporation of California insisted: “We need standardization at the collection level as well.”

Natalia Cruz of Spain-based Ferromolins SL welcomed the Exchange initiative as “a very useful tool” for all of those businesses involved in the search for solutions to circular economy challenges.

On the issue of supply, Mr Craipeau also identified hugely increased shipping costs as “really restricting the flow of material globally”. Whereas a 40-foot container heading from Asia to Europe or the USA two years ago would have cost around US$ 2500, the outlay was now nearer US$ 15,000, he explained. Among the other pressures on the plastics recycling sector, he listed the impacts of the Ukraine conflict, high energy prices, inflation and lack of labour.

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