Plastics from recycled electronics have always been a difficult material to manage. With low oil prices and environmental challenges concerning flame retardants, domestic companies often choose to make new products from virgin resins instead of recycled plastics.
This means most of the companies who specialize in the recovery and manufacturing of "e-plastics" overseas and leaves minimal domestic demand for vendors like SEAM who do not export materials. Exporting of this plastic scrap from many US firms to the global marketplace has always been a crucial component for successful reuse across the industry. However, with export markets quickly disappearing, electronics processors of all sizes are now struggling to find responsible solutions.
In 2017, China announced import restrictions on nearly all recycled plastic and paper, known as the National Sword campaign. Since then, they have continued to crackdown on import permits for recycled materials across the board and have recently implemented retaliatory tariffs. This has created a ripple effect throughout the recycling industry both domestically and overseas, for curbside and e-waste programs alike.
As the largest importer of the world's plastic waste(over 70 percent), China's restrictions have cut off a critical pipeline for e-scrap processors and have caused other importers like Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand to limit what they can accept as well.
Drop in Material Value
Due to these restrictions, mixed plastic from electronics is now considered valueless across the globe and has severely limited the marketability of an already low-to-no-value material. With an abundance of material building up domestically, processors across the industry are facing a huge dilemma with e-plastics, even for those who do not directly export.
As the market continues to erode, companies like SEAM are actively working on long-term, responsible solutions. Alternatives to recycling are being discussed, including waste-to-energy possibilities and investing in new sorting techniques to create a better product for domestic use.
The electronics recycling industry as a whole has begun to consider the lasting impacts these issues will have on the global recycling market. As any changes arise, SEAM will keep our customers updated.