US scrap paper and plastic exports fall

U.S. companies exported 8% less recovered fiber and 10% less scrap plastic during the first quarter of 2023 than they did a year earlier, and there were some dramatic changes in where material was flowing.

A Resource Recycling analysis of recently released Census Bureau trade data shows the U.S. exported 3.95 million short tons of recovered fiber in the first quarter, down 8% from the first quarter of 2022. Exports of scrap plastics totaled 235 million pounds during the first quarter, down 10% year over year.

Thailand now the No. 1 fiber recipient

The data showed some wild swings in where material was going, as well. For example, U.S. bales headed to India dropped by 446,000 short tons, or 37%, but shipments to Thailand surged year over year, increasing by 449,000 short tons, or 120%.

The numbers in this article include various grades of recovered paper and paperboard but exclude pulp made from recycled materials. Recycled pulp makes up a relatively small amount of exported material.

The top 10 destinations for fiber were as follows (all numbers are short tons):

  • Thailand received 824,000 tons (up 120%).
  • India received 754,000 tons (down 37%).
  • Mexico received 587,000 tons (down 5%).
  • Vietnam received 432,000 tons (down 13%).
  • Malaysia received 291,000 tons (up 8%).
  • Taiwan received 234,000 tons (down 16%).
  • South Korea received 197,000 tons (down 6%).
  • Canada received 184,000 short tons (down 10%).
  • China received 116,000 tons (down 20%).
  • Indonesia received 106,000 tons (up 14%).
  • The rest of the world combined received 226,000 tons (down 42%).

The chart below shows the changes (story continues below chart):

Plastic exports also drop
Census Bureau data also showed wild swings in overseas destinations for U.S. scrap plastics. For example, shipments to India increased notably, while exports to Malaysia and Mexico plummeted.
The top 10 destinations for recovered plastic were as follows:
Canada received 83.5 million pounds (up 7%). Mexico received 44.1 million pounds (down 18%). India received 32.3 million pounds (up 40%). Malaysia received 14.3 million pounds (down 57%). Indonesia received 10.4 million pounds (down 32%). Germany received 9.0 million pounds (no change). Vietnam received 9.0 million pounds (up 27%). Spain received 3.9 million pounds (up 35%). Bangladesh received 3.5 million pounds (up 405%).Turkey received 3.3 million pounds (down 51%). The rest of the world combined took in 21.1 million pounds (down 32%).
The chart below shows the changes: