Recycled Plastics Prices: PET Looks Stable, HDPE on a Yo-Yo Path

Most recyclers say 2017 ended on a flat note, after brief disruption by Hurricane Harvey, and some recycled resin prices may rise a bit in the second quarter.

2017 turned out to be a surprise, as the hurricanes did not affect resin prices or supply as much as anticipated. Most recyclers and materials suppliers say the year ended on a flat note, but 2018 may bring a slow rise in some prices in the second quarter. That’s true despite the Chinese banning many low-end recycled materials from the U.S. Recyclers on both coasts say it looks as though China may loosen up a little by creating specs that will allow some materials to go over there, but no one knows when and if that will happen.

R-PET

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Prices went up after the hurricane, but projections have them coming down again in the first quarter. For a good part of 2017, virgin PET was readily available and very inexpensive due to low oil prices and ample supplies. Then a few things happened. There were the storms, but more important were the effects of the anti-dumping suit filed against some foreign virgin PET producers and, above all, the bankruptcy filing by M&G Polymers, which was close to completing a 2.2-billion-lb PET plant in Corpus Christie, Tex. In the last six weeks of 2017, virgin pricing increased a little bit, availability decreased.

“Certainly, Q4 is going to end up being our best quarter this year,” one recycler says, “but the real question is where we will be in 2018. Most people think at least the first part of 2018 will be fairly stable.”

            As for China’s pullback in scrap buying, “That’s not all negative,” says one recycler. “Now they are not taking a lot of post-consumer volume off the West Coast, that volume is feeding these mega recycling plants that have been constructed in the Southeast. They can get supply fairly readily and that has helped reduced the cost of feedstock for recyclers. Remember, feedstock started in the single digits this year and ramped up into the mid to upper teens, and now it is heading back down.”

A West Coast recycler adds, “The Chinese are gone, but we still have Indonesia, Vietnam, and India starting to step up. They don’t have a big impact yet, because they are not buying much volume, but they are trying to take over what was lost by China.”

 

R-HDPE

HDPE prices have been on a rollercoaster. Prices went down early last summer, but when the hurricanes hit, they started back up. “We are now approaching the highs of early 2017 and those are expected to hold through January. In the new year, expect natural-color prices to come down a nickel, and then in second quarter go up again, then down again by the end of the year,” one recycler predicts.

 “Our demand went up after the hurricane because people couldn’t get as much virgin as they did before, but, it didn’t go up as much as the customers anticipated, and we got some cancellations,” recalls one reprocessor. “For instance, one customer ordered a couple of million pounds and in the end only accepted 160,000 lb.” Prices of recycled injection and film grades are said to be down more than blow molding resin.

 

Other RECYCLED Materials

Recyclers say demand for recycled nylon is still strong, and for recycled PC and PP as well. In the last four months, the price of nylon scrap has gone up about a nickel. “Before the storm, PP was tight, as a result prices went up after the storm. Finding reprocessed PP was a problem. Now it is loosening up quickly, but prices won’t fall off as dramatically as for PE, which could drop off as much as 20¢/lb in a month, one analyst says.

 

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