Trends in United States Exports of Recyclable Polymers

The US exported 557,000 tons of recyclable polymers in 2021, one-third the volume of what was shipped in 2017. In addition to a sharp decline in volume over that period, the distribution of US exports changed. Latin America and Canada now account for a greater share of the total, although Asia-Pacific remains the largest volume destination. Further declines in US exports to Asia-Pacific are likely given the decision by CMA CGM, the US’s largest shipper of these materials, to end shipments as of June 1, 2022.

Recyclable polymers are post-consumer and post-industrial waste, parings and scrap that must be further processed in order to be used to manufacture products. The volume exported by the US fell sharply in 2018 and 2019, by roughly 35% each year, but the rate of decline then slowed. Exports in 2020 were down 6% from the prior year and 11% in 2021.

Over that period, the distribution of US exports by region shifted away from Asia-Pacific and increased toward Latin America and Canada:

In a news release issued by CMA CGM, and announced at the recent One Ocean Summit, the company said it would stop all transport of plastic waste on its vessels. This will most directly reduce US exports to Asia-Pacific and, unless domestic recycling increases, will likely increase volumes exported by land to Latin America and Canada.

From International Trader Publications’ US Polymer Trade Report, an analysis of US monthly trade in all commodity polymers, recyclable polymers and key fabricated plastic products.