Global plastics recycling market could reach $40bn in 2019

Countries have been forced to look at domestic recycling investment since China halted imports of waste

China’s waste ban fuelling investment from other countries in domestic plastics recycling infrastructure, according to analysis from Frost & Sullivan

The global plastics recycling market is likely to experience strong growth this year as investments in new technologies ramp up in the wake of China’s ban on waste imports and help propel the market towards the $40bn mark, according to Frost & Sullivan.

At present the plastic recycling market stands at around $37.6bn, but it could be on course to hit $39.9bn during 2019, marking a more than $2bn increase as countries seek to boost their domestic recycling infrastructure now they are unable to send their waste to China for processing, a new report from analysts firm said.

It follows China’s decision two years ago to halt imports of foreign solid waste items for recycling, including plastic, hardware, ships, scraps of stainless steel, titanium, and wood. The move forced a host of countries – including the UK – to look at strengthening circular economy programmes at home in a bid to deal with their waste domestically rather than send it abroad.

However, critics have also warned that the move led to a surge in waste exports to other Asian countries with less well advanced recycling sectors, resulting in some waste being dumped illegally.

Overall revenues in the global waste recycling sector are expected to increase, Frost & Sullivan’s latest market outlook said, from $354.7bn in 2018 to $376.9bn by the end of this year.

At the same time, volumes of waste generated are set to grow from 29.5 billion tonnes last year to almost 30.2bn tonnes over the same period, with industrial sectors generating the lion’s share at 16.75 billion tonnes, according to the report. Within that, it estimated the total volume of plastic waste generated at 280 million tonnes.

“Growing industrialisation and expansion of hazardous waste types will lead to greater waste volumes and drive the need for better management. Improved sorting and labelling of hazardous waste will further increase collection volumes, and, thus, revenues,” said Deepthi Kumar Sugumar, senior analyst for energy and environment at Frost & Sullivan. “Disruptive technologies like AI, robotics, and drones will aid the optimisation of collection and disposal.”

Published on Wednesday, the report forecasts waste sector volumes, revenues and services, while also examining the latest trends in the market, highlighting business and growth opportunities for different waste streams globally.

Sugumar said he expected circular economy and sustainability targets and regulations to encourage further innovation, competitiveness and job creation in the global waste recycling market, pointing to specific opportunities in electric vehicle battery recycling, retail takeback schemes, and pyrolysis technologies.

“The volume of e-waste generated is set to increase in developing regions, especially Asia-Pacific, due to the surge in demand and sale of electrical and electronic appliances,” added Sugumar. “Many companies are involved in developing various technologies but those employing technologies that are less energy-intensive and leave minimal residues will have an edge.”