May-2022(Gazette)-Plastic scraps supply chain shortage

Plastic scraps supply chain shortage

Original by Dr. Steve Wong 黃楚祺博士


The United States recently released the following data on post-consumer plastic waste recycling:

According to a recent report, the U.S. post-consumer plastic waste recovered for recycling in the year 2020, including PET bottles, PE bottles, PP bottles,  other type of plastic bottles , plastic film and other plastic waste (not including EPS), totaled 2.18 Million tons. This is less than 25% of China’s peak import volume of 9.00 Million tons of plastic waste in the past. Furthermore, the U.S.’s total plastic waste recovery volume dropped 5.7% in 2020 against that of 2019 due to the COVID-19 impacts on the regular operation of waste recovery facilities, resulting in landfilling of a lot of household plastic waste. The fact is plastic waste exports from the U.S. have been declining since the outset of the import ban of China, from 2.56 Million tons in 2016 to 2.30 Million tons in 2018.



Since China’s import ban on plastic waste, most of the recovered plastic materials have been recycled and reused for product manufacturing in the export countries. Using recycled materials is becoming more popular, and for some states in the U.S., products with recycled content have become mandatory. For California, all the plastic packaging materials must be with 15% recycled as of 2022. It will be increased to 25% by 2025, and a penalty of USD448 per ton will be levied on non-compliance. There will be a shortfall of 3.60 million tons in recycled plastic materials to achieve this target by then. Many brand owners and petrochemical companies invest in recycling plants or acquire existing recycling plants to secure supply. While recycling at source is taking shape, the volume of exports is declining and amounts to around 15% to 20% of overall recovery.



Canada and Mexico are the top importer countries of US generated waste, followed by Europe and South East Asia.  Export of PET bottles, HDPE milk bottles, and PP bottles to Southeast Asia are almost zero. Recyclers relying on imported plastic scraps will face enormous challenges in the future as more developed countries such as Japan, Europe, and Australia are encouraging domestic recycling and reuse. The restriction on the movement of plastic waste under the Basel Convention Amendments is another cause of the severe supply shortage of plastic scraps.


Many countries, including the U.S., have blamed the low recovery rate on inadequate MRF facilities (Material Recycling Facilities) to treat household waste. The cause of this is complex as the types of plastics are too broad. The general public only knows how to recycle plastic bottles. Most people are unaware of the type of plastic in other tens of thousands of daily products. At the same time, they don’t know how to separate them; and even if they try to divide them by type, it is difficult to identify the materials. Take plastic films as an example; there are already a few dozen types. If the materials are not well segregated, it is not possible to recycle and, in the end, cannot be processed into re-pellets.

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