China’s Scrap Polymer Imports are Large and Growing

Imports into China of scrap and waste commodity polymers are large, growing, and should be considered along with imports of virgin polymer in analyzing China’s demand.

A focus only on imports of virgin polymers can result in inaccurate conclusions as to the size of the Chinese market for commodity polymers. Polyethylene is an example.

The history of China’s imports of virgin polymers of ethylene (LDPE, LLDPE, HDPE, EVA and ethylene copolymers) over the last four years, 2008 through 2011, shows a huge jump in imports in 2009, when volume surged from 4.96 million tons in 2008 to 8.08 million tons, but then little or no growth in virgin polyethylene imports over the next two years.

There is actually a 0.5% drop in imports in 2010, to 8.04 million tons, then a small increase of 1.9% in 2011, to 8.19 million tons.

A different picture emerges if China’s imports of scrap and waste polyethylene are also considered. These totaled 2.14 million tons in 2008 and increased each year, reaching 3.29 million tons in 2011. If imports of scrap polyethylene are added to virgin polyethylene imports, the growth rate in the total is substantially higher than that of virgin polymer alone: 3.7% in 2010 versus 2009; and, 7.6% in 2011 versus 2010.

China’s imports of scrap and waste polymer are important for all the commodity polymers except polystyrene. Scrap PVC imports, for example, were 1.2 million tons in 2011, compared with 1.4 million tons of virgin PVC imports. Scrap PET imports were 1.7 million tons in 2011, far exceeding virgin resin imports.

[important] Two other aspects of the China market have also become important, particularly over the last two years: exports of virgin commodity polymers, and, exports of fabricated plastic products. These trade flows, together with imports of virgin polymers and scrap polymers, are covered in the monthly China Polymer Trade Report, which is issued as soon as China’s statistics are released. [/important]

Jean J. Sudol
International Trader Publications, Inc.
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