Surprises in China’s Polymer Trade in 2012

China surprised many again in 2012, importing significantly higher volumes of virgin polyolefins  than in 2011, supplementing virgin polymer imports with record high amounts of scrap and waste polymers, and, expanding exports of fabricated plastic products for the fourth year in a row.

Despite widespread fears to the contrary, the second half of 2012 was particularly strong for China’s imports of virgin polyolefins. By yearend, China had imported 8.8 million tons of ethylene polymers (LDPE, LLDPE, HDPE, EVA and copolymers), up 7% from 2011, and 5.3 million tons of propylene polymers (PP homopolymer and copolymers), also up 7%.  Imports of a number of individual polymers had much larger percentage gains: HDPE, up 14%; EVA, up 21%; propylene copolymers, up 19%.

There were shifts in China’s import sources in 2012. Much higher volumes of PE were imported from Iran, Thailand and UAE than in the prior year; imports of polypropylene from Saudi Arabia, UAE and India surged.  Imports from the US of both PE and PP dropped.

Also underscoring the strength in demand in 2012 was the 9% increase in China’s imports of scrap and waste polyolefins, to 6 million tons.  Scrap and waste polymer imports supplement or displace virgin polymer in a variety of end uses and are an important component of the total demand picture. The 9% increase in polyolefin scrap polymer imports in 2012 followed increases of 23% in 2011 and 13% in 2010.

Imports of scrap and waste PET have also increased each year for several years. These set new record highs in 2012 and totaled over 2 million tons for the year. China’s imports of scrap PET actually exceeded the country’s exports of virgin PET, which also hit new highs during the year and totaled 1.3 million tons, up 13%.

China exports globally numerous fabricated and semi-fabricated products manufactured from one or more polymers. These products include polyethylene bags, PVC flooring, pipes and hoses, plates and sheets, boxes, bottles, lids, pails, kitchenware, builders’ ware etc.  In 2012, exports of a monitored group of these fabricated products totaled 6.6 million tons, up 7%. In 2011, exports of the same group of products was up 8%; in 2010, it was up 20%. Asia-Pacific, North America and Latin America were growth export destinations for most of these products.

This information is from the yearend edition of The China Polymer Trade Report, which gives detailed volume, price and trading partner information on China’s imports and exports of virgin polymers of ethylene, propylene, styrene, VCM and PET, imports of scrap and waste polymers, and exports of fabricated plastic products. The yearend edition is available as a separate report or as part of a 12-month subscription. More information is available at