Plastics Recycling Update

Steps to resiliency

This story originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of Plastics Recycling Update. Subscribe today for access to all print content.


Plenty has been written about the challenges that have stood in front of the plastics recovery sector in recent months and years.

Low oil prices and market uncertainties were becoming a fact of life for reclaimers and others, and then China rocked the industry boat even more substantially last year when it began announcing significant plans to draw back levels of imported material.

Not surprisingly, leaders in North American plastics recycling have responded with calls to bolster value chain certainty by developing strong reliable markets domestically (or in countries that don’t have Beijing as a capital). Much discussion has also been focused on boosting the quality of bales so that plastics processors aren’t forced to spend so much time and money dealing with residual material.

How do we actually move forward in those areas and others that can help plastics recycling thrive? To find out, Plastics Recycling Update reached out to four key industry associations and asked them each to provide three tangible moves stakeholders can make over the next year to create a more resilient sector.

Their responses provide ideas on how industry players can move from anxiety to action amid current market realities.

Putting a focus on supply, demand and connectivity

By Craig Cookson, senior director of recycling and energy recovery, American Chemistry Council

Like other commodity businesses, plastics recycling will face ups and downs. However, recyclers can become stronger by focusing on economic fundamentals and quickly adapting to larger industry trends.

Here are three steps to help accomplish those goals:


How strategic communication can push sector past barriers

By Jonathan Levy, director of member services, Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI)

The plastics recycling industry is facing significant challenges now that China has imposed significant contamination limits on scrap plastic imports. How the industry responds to this challenge will have repercussions for years to come.

We see this not solely as an issue impacting plastics recyclers. It affects the entire recycling industry because much of the current struggle is tied to the high level of contaminants moving through the value chain. ISRI for its part, is holding discussions not only with its members but with external stakeholders to develop solutions to this challenge. Here are three ways we think the industry can successfully engage in dialogue to move forward.


Meeting difficult market conditions with direct action

By Laura Stewart, communications director, National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR)

PET recycling has weathered several years of tough market realities. With the declining recovery rate for PET, the Chinese government’s National Sword policy, and bale quality on the decline, is there really anything that can make the plastics recycling sector stronger in 2018?

As 2017 came to a close, we saw tight supply of virgin PET, and while that feels like a lift for recycled PET going into 2018, we at NAPCOR feel there are a few additional things worth focusing on to strengthen the plastics recycling sector.

Existing programs and tools offer pathways to progress

By Steve Alexander, president and CEO, Association of Plastic Recyclers

We all know the industry impacts that have been seen by the oversupply of virgin material, China’s restrictions, industry capacity realities, and a lack of market demand.

So what can be done in 2018 to strengthen our industry? APR’s operating strategy focuses on three areas every day: increase supply, increase demand and enhance quality. Here’s a look at how we’re pushing progress in each of those realms by utilizing proven initiatives and helpful resources.

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