Over the past year, municipal recycling programs that collect and sort plastic tubs and lids have benefited from a surge in the market value of these materials, mirroring increases seen for traditionally higher-value plastics. In January 2005, the price reached over $100 per tonne, a price not seen since the mid-nineties.
Several reasons account for this. China’s consumption of plastics, particularly for HDPE, keeps pressure on demand. Further, stronger demand for recycled plastic products and advances in bonding chemistry are driving successful applications. And, while the price likely has reached its peak (approaching that of post-industrial material), demand may be here to stay.
Pressure to increase diversion is driving municipalities to consider adding tubs, lids and other plastics. For example, 50 percent of municipal programs in Ontario already collect tubs and lids. Certain major municipalities, including Toronto, will add them as new processing infrastructure is built.
Interestingly, only 19 of that province’s programs report marketing tubs and lids separately to take advantage of the higher value. These programs market 738 tonnes, only about 2 percent of all residential plastics recycled in Ontario in 2003. The situation is similar in other provinces.
Key markets already exist in Quebec, Ontario and California. Still, brokers indicate they have trouble filling their orders. The response of municipal programs is mixed. Some are constrained by limited processing capability and can’t cost-effectively sort tubs and lids from mixed plastics. There is also caution based on historically weak markets. Brokers report that much of the mixed material available is very contaminated and of little value.
It appears that if municipal programs hope to make extended plastics recovery successful, they will have to find ways to exploit the stronger demand and revenue. This may involve more targeted collection or an enhanced, more cost-effective processing infrastructure.
Contact Damian Bassett at 416-594-3457, ext 3457 or visit www.csr.org (CSR Sheet located under “Publications”)