During the first nine months of 2023, exports of scrap plastic from the U.S. to Mexico dropped 9% year over year. | Quiggyt4/Shutterstock

The U.S. continued to export less scrap plastic to the rest of the world, according to an analysis of trade data covering the first nine months of 2023. 

U.S. companies exported 699 million pounds of scrap plastics during the first three quarters of 2023, down 5% from the same period the year prior. Interestingly, the U.S. sent quite a bit more plastic northward to Canada, but the amount sent south to Mexico dropped substantially. 

The U.S. Census Bureau recently published trade data for September, allowing Resource Recycling to compare data from the first three quarters of 2023 with data from the first three quarters of 2022

Overall, exports continued to drop during the period, a continuation of a years-long trend. Both policy and markets are likely responsible. Starting in 2017, China began implementing its National Sword campaign, which slashed the country’s scrap imports. Starting in 2021, an amendment to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, added restrictions on the international trade in scrap plastics. In response, major shipping lines announced they would no longer accept bookings for the materials. 

Meanwhile, domestic investments have increased the capacity to recycle plastic in the U.S., including those tackling PET, rigid polyethylene, PE film and PP. Plastic recycling research firm Stina Inc. has documented a years-long trend away from exports.  

Less sent to Mexico and Malaysia

On a year-over-year basis, the top 10 list of destinations for U.S. scrap plastics is mostly the same, except El Salvador dropped off the list and Spain climbed onto it. 

The following are the pounds sent to the top 10 countries during the first three quarters of 2023, compared with the prior-year period: 

Canada received 263 million pounds (up 8%), Mexico received 125 million pounds (down 9%), India received 83 million pounds (up 15%), Malaysia received 49 million pounds (down 21%), Vietnam received 33 million pounds (up 36%), Indonesia received 30 million pounds (down 11%), Spain received 17 million pounds (up 47%), Germany received 14 million pounds (down 42%) and Turkey received 10 million pounds (down 51%). 

The rest of the world combined took 64 million pounds, down 32%. 

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