Recycled material shipments out of the U.S. have been on the decline for multiple years due to overseas regulatory changes. | MAGNIFIER/Shutterstock

U.S. shipments of recycled plastic out of the country were down during the first quarter of 2020 compared with previous years, according to new export data.

The decrease in recovered plastic exports, detailed in U.S. Census Bureau trade data published this month, comes after 2019 marked a major decline for exports of recycled commodities.

The U.S. exported 311 million pounds of scrap plastic during the first quarter of 2020, down from first-quarter tallies of 374 million pounds in 2019 and 711 million pounds in 2018.

Chinese imports remain virtually nonexistent, following the country’s 2018 ban on scrap plastic imports. Figures show China brought in 1 million pounds of U.S. scrap plastic in the first quarter of this year – four years ago, China imported 324 million pounds of scrap plastic during that period.

But the drop in global exports this year was driven by other countries enacting similar policies. For example, India, which imported 81 million pounds of U.S. scrap plastic in the first quarter of 2019, announced later in the year a ban on imports of the material. Accordingly, exports to India totaled just 10 million pounds during that period this year.

Other countries increased their imports this year, including Vietnam (up by 20 million pounds) and Malaysia (up by 31 million pounds), but those increases were not enough to offset India and other countries’ reduced imports.

The top importers of U.S. scrap plastic were Canada (81.3 million pounds), Malaysia (54 million pounds), Hong Kong (25 million pounds), Vietnam (25 million pounds), Mexico (21 million pounds), Turkey (16 million pounds) South Korea (11 million pounds), Taiwan (10 million pounds), India (10 million pounds) and Indonesia (8 million pounds).

A version of this story appeared in Resource Recycling on May 12.

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