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European buyers switch to virgin PET as R-PET Flakes prices soar

by Manolya Tufan - mtufan@chemorbis.com
  • 28/03/2024 (09:14)
Regional R-PET Flakes and Pellets markets have witnessed hefty price gains during March amid supply limitations. With the supply outlook remaining tight, some manufacturers decided to reduce their purchases of R-PET and switch to virgin PET bottle to avoid paying inflated levels for the former. Indeed, spot PET bottle markets mostly followed a stable path during March to hover at around a-year high.

Unlike preform and bottle manufacturers, participants in the sheet, film and thermoforming sectors can switch to virgin PET bottle when needed to keep their margins in check. They try to avoid R-PET purchases given elevated levels, while preform manufacturers continue to buy R-PET flakes and pellets for their production. Hence, the substitution is more visible in the thermoforming sector. This was despite European Union’s waste prevention targets in plastic packaging.

Gap between virgin PET bottle and R-PET markets narrows

R-PET Flake range for clear grade posted strong gains in March to hit €1250-1300/ton FD on the high ends of the ranges both in Italy and West Europe. 3-digit hikes for March were driven by higher post-consumer bale prices and active buying interest amid supply restrictions. The R-PET Pellets market hit the €1500/ton FD threshold on a monthly average for the first time since June 2023 amid supply tightness, as a side note.

To track developments in Europe’s recycled polymers markets, please see Recycled Polymers (For members only)

High R-PET prices prompt some converters in the region to substitute it with virgin PET bottle. Spot PET bottle markets were last reported at €1160-1230/ton FD Italy/NWE, 60 days.

A large converter in the food packaging sector said, “We paid huge hikes since the beginning of the year, but we preferred virgin PET this month as prices are more competitive.”

As can be seen in the below graph, the monthly average of R-PET Flakes prices and virgin PET bottle prices nearly trade at par following steeper gains in the recycled market compared to the virgin market.

FD–Italy–NWE–PET–R-PET

Lackluster demand hinders uptrend in prime PET market

March deals were closed with rollovers to small increases as buyers resisted paying larger hikes amid easing supply concerns and demand remaining below expectations ahead of the Easter holiday. Slow consumption in derivative markets stemming from lower purchasing power put a strain on the resin demand. While regional production has increased to some extent amid the absence of imports, some players started to receive their delayed import cargos.

The April outlook is mostly stable unless demand shows signs of recovery amid seasonal preparations. PET markets have also seen limited support from feedstock markets as March PX settlement indicated a marginal increase of €5/ton from February, which may continue to be the case in April.

Substitution to prevail amid firmer April outlook for R-PET

Flakes demand was genuinely supported by robust buying interest from converters and recyclers using flakes to produce R-PET pellets. Plus, European Commission’s proposed recycled content goals pushed more converters to use R-PET in the past two months before inflated prices curbed buying interest in March.

Preform manufacturers will likely continue to purchase R-PET flakes. The mandatory recycled content for all PET beverage bottles is 25% by 2025 and 30% by 2030.

However, demand from the thermoforming sector is expected to slow down further next month amid firmer expectations.

Lower collection rates will keep post-consumer bottle bale prices under an upward pressure, which will be translated into less R-PET volumes and higher pricing. Players are concerned about the relentless hikes, which may push prices to new highs as was the case in 2022.

Echoing those concerns, a converter said, “The supply outlook is tight for R-PET given insufficient collection and sorting capacities in Europe, while demand will be driven by packaging waste regulation.”
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