The impending crisis of feedstock availability

12 March 2024

Lizzy Carroll

Elizabeth Carroll, Consultant

The impending crisis of feedstock availability – will there be enough plastic waste to go around!?

As I sit at my kitchen table with rather a wry smile, I pose the question, will there be enough plastic waste to go around? The irony of the question is not lost on me. In a society where we are told that we are drowning in waste, surely there is too much waste, not a lack of it?

The waste plastics value chain is a complex, dynamic segment with a varied and fragmented supply stream. Financial viability of the industry is often in question due to fluctuations in feedstock pricing as well as virgin resin pricing. With prices for bales of recycling feedstock reaching never before seen heights, will some recyclers be priced out of the market?

Unfortunately, investments into new recycling facilities, and increased capacity in those already operational, have far exceeded the developments in municipal collection infrastructure and sorting facilities, and until the infrastructure to capture plastic waste catches up, demand will outstrip supply for certain grades of waste.

Due to the competition, prices for feedstock will unsurprisingly increase with the potential to reduce the financial viability for some. Chemical recyclers have stated that they wish to process the hard to recycle waste that mechanical recyclers do not want. However, due to costs and lack of supply, some mechanical recyclers are already acquiring the lower quality bales of feedstock pushing the demand and price of these normally undesirable bales up.

It is not all doom and gloom in regard to feedstock supply, there are the beginnings of technology advancements that will help sort the residual plastic from MRFs, securing chemical recyclers with a feedstock that is not in competition with mechanical recyclers.

Although there will be difficult times ahead for some, hopefully as municipalities see the value of plastics waste, more fractions will be collected. Likewise, as MRFs see the increasing value of capturing more plastic fractions in the sorting process, investments in technology will be made, increasing quantities of feedstock. Unfortunately, these things do not happen quickly and while we wait for collection and sorting infrastructure to catch up with developments in recycling, will some mechanical recyclers be lost along the way, and some brand-new chemical recycling sites be mothballed until feedstock can be secured? We will have to wait and see.

If you would like any more information, please get in touch with me directly at elizabeth.carroll@amiplastics.com