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Plastics market report - 9 November 2012

The overall market for recovered plastics has remained stable this month, although there has been a decrease in the mixed bottle price.

In recent weeks, the natural HDPE prices rose by £10-£20 per tonne. A range of up to £50 per tonne is currently being offered for this fraction, which is related to supply and demand and also material quality, with prices ranging from £350 to £400 per tonne depending on stock levels.

Clear PET has remained constant at £330-£350 per tonne, but there are indications that the price may rise due to increased demand.

The price offered for mixed bottles fell by £20-£40 per tonne, reducing the average price to £100 per tonne.

Despite two-thirds of UK-collected packaging currently being exported for recycling, discussions are ongoing in China regarding potential restrictions or bans on some plastic imports.

While this is not currently affecting trade, as indicated by the level of export plastic recovery notes (PRNs) issued in 2012, any future restrictions on plastic trading to China would have a negative effect on market opportunities and material values, particularly for the lower grade mixed plastic fractions.

This situation last occurred at the end of 2008, when China temporarily ceased imports of plastic waste. The UK was able to cope because it lasted only for a number of weeks. But if it were to be more permanent, the ability of the UK’s plastic sorting and reprocessing infrastructure to cope with the extra tonnage and quality of material is questionable.

The plastic packaging recycling target set by the Government of 57% by 2017 is achievable but challenging. Many plastic supply and recycling chain organisations have been anxiously awaiting publication of the third quarter results for plastic packaging recycling.

With Q1 and Q2 figures being very low for this year, there was a real concern that the UK was not going to be able to meet the 2012 plastic packaging targets. This resulted in a significant increase in PRN prices, with companies trying to fill their quotas and manage compliance costs.

However, the price of plastic PRNs has subsequently weakened following the upward amendments to Q1 and Q2 reported plastic recycling data along with a strong Q3 report, which was issued this month by the Environment Agency.

This represented the second highest quarterly plastic recycling tonnage reported in the past six years, as shown in the graph. It was thought to have been achieved through the recycling of previously held stock, together with an increase in the number of accredited reprocessors/exporters.

As long as the Q4 data reaches a similar tonnage to Q3, the UK is likely to be able to meet or exceed the required tonnage.

It should be noted that the 2012 data includes 20,000 tonnes of carry-over tonnage from 2011. There will ideally need to be a good level of carry-over this year as well, because a marked tonnage increase will be needed to satisfy the 2013 targets.

Stuart Foster, chief executive, Recoup

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