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China's dominance blights European markets

While the amount of PET bottle waste collected and recycled has reached its highest ever level, there remains concern that exports to China are damaging European markets.

According to the latest information from Petcore, a European association fostering PET use, development and recycling, the number of European PET bales sent for recycling jumped from 449,000 tonnes in 2002 to 612,000 tonnes in 2003, representing a growth rate of 36% significantly more than forecast.

However, market-outlet trends remained unchanged. Bottle-to-bottle recycling increased from 8.1% in 2002 to 11.1% in 2003. Other outlets included polyester fibre 70.4%, polyester sheet 7.5% and strapping 7.6%.

Petcore reports exceptionally high growth rates for Ireland, while the UK showed a large increase for the first time in many years. However, there was one caveat: the UK was one of the countries contributing most to an increase in exports to China.

Petcore director general Frank Koelewijn says that the export of waste PET rose from 33,000 tons in 2002, to 136,000 tons last year.

Over recent years Europe has built an infrastructure which now has considerable expertise for the recycling of PET. While there is nothing against free trade, we are concerned about exports which do not result in similar environmental benefits and which also cause the loss of existing capability in Europe.

We think it important to continue to develop and expand on existing technology, which is needed to maintain economically sustainable market outlets.

However, many national collection agencies understood these issues and would not export unless experts properly audited secondary outlets. The outlook for coming years was healthy, he says.

There is much growth potential in the new member states, and it is reassuring to see how mature collection countries such as Austria, Belgium, France, Italy and Switzerland continue to collect more, year after year. The fundamentals of such growth are based on commitments of beverage brands, PET stakeholders and above all: committed citizens.


The struggle with export markets was reflected at last months Bureau of International Recyclings (BIR) convention in Berlin.

The Italian market has deteriorated since the BIRs last meeting in autumn 2003. Raw material is scarce and large volumes continue to be shipped to Asia.

Spanish mills have also been affected by the large amount of material being sent to Asia. Market spokesman Marc Figueras believes greater protection is needed for the countrys plastics recyclers otherwise they will disappear. French plastics recyclers are meanwhile facing a calm market. French spokesman Jacques Musa says there is a very strong export market for secondary polyethylene film. Prices are firm and demand is running ahead of supply. u

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