In 2014, global trade in recycle polyethylene totaled 6.6 million tons, up 23%. Trade volume through June of 2015 was 2.6 million tons, down 13%, based on reporting countries. Global trade volume is an indicator of global demand.
China is, by far, the world’s largest importer of recycle polyethylene, volume in 2014 at 4.4 million tons, up 27%. Other large import markets for recycle material include: Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Turkey, Poland, US, Canada, India, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Many countries export recycle material, with the US being the largest. In 2014, the US shipped 773,000 tons, up 22%, exports to China and Hong Kong accounting for nearly three quarters of the total. Other US export markets included Canada, India, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Because China is such an important importer, the complex relationship between government policy and prices for recycle and virgin material is relevant to global trade trends.
In 2013, the year the Chinese government cracked down on pollution and more actively enforced its “Green fence” policy, China’s imports of recycle PE dropped by 6%, to 3.5 million tons. Imports of virgin PE in that year were 9.7 million ton, up 10%. In 2014, virgin PE prices trended upward throughout the year, reaching new highs, and imports rose 6%, to 10.2 million tons. Prices on recycle PE actually trended somewhat lower in the second half of that year and import volumes rebounded, up 27%, to 4.4 million tons, noting, however, that the prior year had been unusually low. Through June of 2015, prices on virgin PE collapsed and imports rose 6%, to 5.6 million tons. Prices on recycle PE also dropped, but with virgin prices so low there was less incentive to buy recycle polymer so volume through June was down 20%, to 1.74 million tons.
From International Trader Publications’: China Polymer World Trade Report and Recycle Polyethylene World Trade Report