Trends in Recyclable Polyethylene in 2023

Global trade volume in recyclable polyethylene polymer in 2023 dropped 2% from 2022, to 3.0 million tons, indicating weaker global demand. Key trends included lower intra-regional trade in Western Europe and Asia-Pacific, lower imports into Western Europe and a surge in imports into Asia-Pacific on material sourced mainly from Western Europe and North America. Average prices steadied in the second half of 2023 at low levels.

Recyclable polyethylene is post-consumer and post-industrial waste and scrap that can be identified as a polymer made from ethylene, and that can be processed in some way to yield a useful material.

In Western Europe, weak demand resulted in lower intra-regional trade, down 7% in 2023, to 987,000 tons, after having expanded each of the last two years. Also illustrating the drop in demand was the steep fall in imports, by 32%, to 131,000 tons and the 10% rise in exports, to 930,000 tons, as more volume was shipped to Asia-Pacific.

The trend in the average price of recyclable polyethylene generally mirrored that of virgin polymer but did not show the small upward trend in the latter in the second half of the year. The graphs below show Germany’s average export price for recyclable polyethylene versus Germany’s average export price of virgin polyethylene, combined grades, which are representative of the region.

A striking change in recyclable polyethylene trade flows in 2023 was the 21% surge in imports into Asia-Pacific, to 657,000 tons. Western Europe shipped 422,000 tons of the total, up 34%, North America, 195,000 tons, up 3%. Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam accounted for 84% of the Asia-Pacific import total.

From International Trader Publications Recyclable Polyethylene World Trade Analysis, a continuously updated analysis of global trade based on the latest statistics from all available countries.