This article appeared in the September 2023 issue of Resource Recycling. Subscribe today for access to all print content.
Exports of both recovered fiber and plastics fell during the first six months of 2023, newly released federal trade statistics show. U.S. companies exported 16% less fiber during the first half of 2023 than they did during the corresponding period of the prior year. Scrap plastic shipments dropped by 7%. The Census Bureau recently released data for June exports, allowing Resource Recycling to compare statistics from the first half of 2023 to those from the prior year.
U.S. companies exported 7.29 million short tons of fiber scrap in the January-June period, not including recycled pulp. Among the top 10 destinations, most reduced their purchases of U.S. bales, although there were some notable exceptions in East Asia. For example, shipments to Thailand surged, rising 44% year over year and making the Southeast Asian country the second largest downstream destination for U.S. fiber bales during that period.
To skirt China’s import restrictions on scrap bales, which the country calls “waste,” some companies, most notably box manufacturer Nine Dragons, are recycling scrap fiber into recycled pulp at U.S. mills and then exporting the pulp for further processing into paper. The practice picked up after China began imposing its National Sword imports restrictions campaign in 2018.
The amount of recycled pulp exports also remained relatively small. During the first half of 2023, companies exported 152,000 metric tons of recycled pulp from the U.S. That was down 48% year over year. During the first quarter of 2023, U.S. comhpanies exported 8% less fiber year over year.
The U.S. exported 474 million pounds of scrap plastic during the first half of 2023, down 7% year over year. The top 10 destinations experienced some notable swings in the amount of material they took from the U.S. For example, shipments to Malaysia dropped 43%, but Vietnam boosted its consumption by 25%. During the first quarter of 2023, plastic exports dropped by 10% year over year.
Source: Resource Recycling analysis of U.S. Census Bureau statistics