As predicted, the start of 2021 has seen the plastic market dominated by issues surrounding Brexit and Basel amendments.
Added to that, we have had the unforeseen halt of shipments to non-OECD countries, additional material bans from Turkey and a new UK-wide Covid-19 lockdown – it is fair to say that plastic recyclers and exporters face huge challenges coming into the new year.
Let’s begin with Brexit. With reports of Government software crashing, T1 application and customs clearance delays, it is understandable that only a small number of plastic shipments have made it to EU processors from the UK.
The loads that have made have rarely gone without issue. Hauliers are experiencing massive delays at both ends and the knock-on effect has been delays or cancelled collections. I know many exporters have decided to sit tight and see how things play out hoping that material will begin to move more freely in February but some have been left with loads stuck at ports.
There continues to be high demand for UK material, but EU processors require consistent supply to run their facilities and their patience could be tested if this goes on much longer. This could result in them sourcing material from other countries.
Amendments to legislation on waste shipments came into effect on 1 January and brought with it tougher controls on the export of waste plastics. Some grades were now notifiable such as PVC and heavily mixed loads.
However, by default green list waste is also notifiable to non -OECD countries from the UK. Exporters were given less than 24 hours notice of this when it was announced on 31December and left many scrambling to cancel shipments that were already at or on the way to UK ports.
It is estimated that over 210,000 tonnes per year of plastic waste is exported from England to non-OECD countries for recycling. There will be pressure to find outlets for this tonnage over the coming months.
In addition to new quotas in Turkey where processors can only import 50% of their processing capacity, the Turkish Ministry for Environment has also banned mixed polymer loads and material that has been mechanically sorted. This will leave UK suppliers looking for new outlets for Mixed Bottles, Pots and Trays as well as MRF film, HDPE bottles and PET bottles if they have been mechanically sorted. That said, most of the plastic loads that have left the UK in 2021 are destined for Turkey as shipping lines have been able to undertake customs clearance on behalf of their clients.
Exports to the USA have increased in recent months and may ease some of the pressure by providing outlets for the higher grades. A strong pound against the dollar and increased demand due to legislation changes have made the US a viable option for UK material and this should continue through most of the year.
UK processors will be delighted to have their pick of material and they will welcome higher quality grades at their plants currently, but despite their best efforts, they are limited to what they can process.
While this is all going on UK yards are filling up and suppliers are running out of room. They are hoping material will begin to move more freely in February but unfortunately, I am hearing of good recyclable material heading for incineration and even landfill! Something needs to be done and fast so this does not become common practice.
Martin Robb is sales and marketing director at Nevis Resources