The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI) Chief Economist Joe Pickard testified on May 14 before the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) at a hearing to examine the economic impacts of barriers to the free trade of environmental goods. Given the critical role the recycling industry plays in global trade and the environment, Pickard called for the ITC to include all scrap commodities and equipment in its classification of environmental goods. He also testified that eliminating tariff barriers would benefit the industry, our balance of trade and the environment.
In 2013, the United States exported 42.8 million metric tons of commodity grade scrap to 160 destinations worldwide for the manufacture of new products. These activities generated $24 billion in export sales and significantly helped the U.S. trade balance. In terms of volume, scrap materials are among the nation’s largest commodity exports. In addition, U.S. exports of recycling equipment totaled $435 million in 2011 as export sales accounted for 15% of total scrap equipment revenues. U.S. exporters of scrap – including plastic scrap – face a range of import tariffs.
There are some in the plastics industry that want to see the valuable commodity plastics – specifically PET – remain in the U.S., and not be shredded, baled and shipped to China for re-processing. That reprocessed material, say the plastics molders and thermoformers, comes back as RPET, for which there is a huge demand. And the material is often more costly than virgin PET. Perhaps these tariffs are one way to keep our valuable plastic scrap in the U.S.
Getting the best value out of recycled material takes effort in the collection, sorting and cleaning process, but the demand for reprocessed plastics is getting greater every day as companies seek ways to promote “sustainability” as a means of improving their products and their image.