China’s ban on scrap im­ports a boon to US re­cy­cling plants

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By MARY ESCH

AL­BANY, N.Y. (AP) >> The halt on China’s im­ports of wastepa­per and plas­tic that has dis­rupted U.S. re­cy­cling pro­grams has also spurred in­vest­ment in Amer­i­can plants that process re­cy­clables.

U.S. pa­per mills are ex­pand­ing ca­pac­ity to take ad­van­tage of a glut of cheap scrap. Some fa­cil­i­ties that pre­vi­ously ex­ported plas­tic or metal to China have re­tooled so they can process it them­selves.

And in a twist, the in­vestors in­clude Chi­nese com­pa­nies that are still in­ter­ested in hav­ing ac­cess to wastepa­per or flat­tened bottles as raw ma­te­rial for man­u­fac­tur­ing.

“It’s a very good mo­ment for re­cy­cling in the United States,” said Neil Seld­man, co-founder of the In­sti­tute for Local Self-Re­liance, a Wash­ing­ton-based or­ga­ni­za­tion that helps cities im­prove re­cy­cling pro­grams.

China, which had long been the world’s largest destinatio­n for pa­per, plas­tic and other re­cy­clables, phased in im­port re­stric­tions in Jan­uary 2018.

Global scrap prices plum­meted, prompt­ing waste-haul­ing com­pa­nies to pass the cost of sort­ing and bal­ing re­cy­clables on to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. With no mar­ket for the wastepa­per and plas­tic in their blue bins, some com­mu­ni­ties scaled back or sus­pended curb­side re­cy­cling pro­grams. New do­mes­tic mar­kets of­fer a glim­mer of hope. About $1 bil­lion in in­vest­ment in U.S. pa­per pro­cess­ing plants has been an­nounced in the past six months, ac­cord­ing to Dy­lan de Thomas, a vice pres­i­dent at The Re­cy­cling Part­ner­ship, a non­profit

or­ga­ni­za­tion that tracks and works with the in­dus­try.

Hong Kong-based Nine Dragons, one of the world’s largest pro­duc­ers of card­board boxes, has in­vested $500 mil­lion over the past year to buy and ex­pand or restart pro­duc­tion at pa­per mills in Maine, Wis­con­sin and West Vir­ginia.

In ad­di­tion to mak­ing pa­per from wood fiber, the mills will add pro­duc­tion lines turn­ing more than a mil­lion tons of scrap into pulp to make boxes, said Brian Boland, vice pres­i­dent of gov­ern­ment af­fairs and cor­po­rate ini­tia­tives for ND Pa­per, Nine Dragons’ U.S. af­fil­i­ate.

“The pa­per in­dus­try has been in con­trac­tion since the early 2000s,” Boland said. “To see this kind of change is frankly amaz­ing. Even though it’s a Chi­ne­se­owned com­pany, it’s cre­at­ing U.S. jobs and re­vi­tal­iz­ing com­mu­ni­ties like Old Town, Maine, where the old mill was shut­tered.”

The North­east Re­cy­cling Coun­cil said in a re­port last fall that 17 North Amer­i­can pa­per mills had an­nounced in­creased ca­pac­ity to han­dle re­cy­clable pa­per since the Chi­nese cut­off.

An­other Chi­nese com­pany, Global Win Wick­liffe, is re­open­ing a shut­tered pa­per mill in Ken­tucky. Ge­or­gia-based Pratt In­dus­tries is con­struct­ing a mill in Wa­pakoneta, Ohio that will turn 425,000 tons of re­cy­cled pa­per per year into ship­ping boxes.

Plas­tics also has a lot of ca­pac­ity com­ing on­line, de Thomas said, not­ing new or ex­panded plants in Texas, Penn­syl­va­nia, Cal­i­for­nia and North Carolina that turn re­cy­cled plas­tic bottles into new bottles.

Chi­nese com­pa­nies are in­vest­ing in plas­tic and scrap metal re­cy­cling plants in Ge­or­gia, In­di­ana and North Carolina to make feed­stocks for man­u­fac­tur­ers in China, he said.

In New Brunswick, New Jer­sey, the re­cy­cling com­pany GDB In­ter­na­tional ex­ported bales of scrap plas­tic film such as pal­let wrap and gro­cery bags for years. But when China started re­strict­ing im­ports, com­pany pres­i­dent Su­nil Ba­garia in­stalled new ma­chin­ery to process it into pel­lets he sells prof­itably to man­u­fac­tur­ers of garbage bags and plas­tic pipe.

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