China's waste plastic ban could pave way for South East Asia's dominance

The sub region of South East Asia could potentially become a world leader in importing plastic waste, according to PCI Wood Mackenzie's 'RPET China Study – China Waste Import Ban 2017'.

The Chinese government's plans to ban waste imports, including plastics, by the end of 2017 could have significant repercussions for the global recycling chain.

The majority of regions export PET waste to China, therefore some will view this as an opportunity to absorb and develop domestic RPET markets, while others are pessimistic about the growing volumes of mixed plastics remaining where there are no markets for the material.

Implications of the ban could see the sub region of South East Asia become a world leader in importing and processing plastic waste. This region has traditionally been the single largest source of waste imports into China and is now in the position to develop its reclamation capacity and secondary markets further. With financial investment from China, advances are currently under way across the chain and are gaining momentum.

The proportion of collected material being exported from the U.S. has been on a downward trend due to the region absorbing a greater share of collected material. Many will see this as a golden opportunity to keep material within the domestic market, improve the sustainability credentials of the region, and migrate to a more circular economy.

The PCI Wood Mackenzie study also highlighted challenges the RPET fibre industry now faces, including issues with surplus capacity, low operating rates, a lack of product differentiation and environmental pressure over its secondary pollution production levels, as well as a loss of competitiveness compared to the virgin fibre industry due to the drop in crude oil prices.

Helen McGeough, PCI Wood Mackenzie Senior Consultant, said; "The recent news coming from China should serve as a warning signal to those countries who export plastics. Asian countries may be happy to accept waste plastics, but the quality must be of acceptable levels to ensure the stream is viable and sustainable for both the industry and environment."