2017: A Mixed Bag for Recycled Plastics Pricing So Far

Volatility in HDPE and PP recycle prices; relative stability for R-PET.

In 2017, recycled plastics suppliers are having a tough time competing with virgin wide-spec materials. Some sources say U.S. customers are pushing for more recycled materials, while others say that desire to be green is not necessarily translating into commitment to pay for it. Recycled materials suppliers expect there will be fewer companies still in the business six months from now.

RPET PRICES STEADY
Demand for RPET is not a disaster but not great either, reprocessors say. The Chinese are still in the market on the West Coast, holding prices up, although they keep saying they are going to cease imports of scrap plastics. Prices have held in the same range all year so far, perhaps with the exception of green flake on the lower end.

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“At the end of the day, post-consumer materials are expensive,” one recycler says. “There is an inherent cost to take material out of the waste stream and put it into a usable resin format. With oil prices and energy prices low and virgin readily available, the market opportunity has diminished greatly.”

R-HDPE: A BUMPY RIDE
Recycled HDPE demand was quite strong up until June and then it dropped off as new virgin capacity came online. “Analysts are saying the new capacity is death to recycling, but I don’t think so,” once recycler said. While natural post-consumer flake may be down as much as 13¢/lb compared with last year at this time, reprocessors say most markets held steady for the first half of the year, but began to get soft in June. Prices bounced back up a little in July with more increases expected this month and in September.

Another reprocessor said, “This year has been better than expected. Demand held up and scrap has been available. At times, however, it has been overpriced.” Right now, colored flake is in the mid to high 30s and natural flake in the low 50s. Colored flake is very soft, partly because there is a lot of wide-spec being offered in the market. However, some sources say they have been selling mixed-color flake into atypical markets, like automotive, because the pipe market isn’t buying recycle.

More new PE plants are expected to be coming online. “It could happen in the third or fourth quarter of this year. At that point, recycled prices will come down because of the competition,” analysts confirm.

R-PP PRICES VOLATILE
This year, recycled PP prices have been volatile. “Prices have weakened over the last few months despite good demand. Additional sources of scrap plastic have come online, increasing the supply.” That’s something new, analysts say. PP scrap has been short for a long time. Instability in recycled PP pricing market seems likely for the foreseeable future.

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