How Environmental Consciousness in China is Good for Georgia Cotton Farmers

China for years has been the final destination for the products that we as American’s recycle, much to the dismay of the Chinese environment.  Apparently “enough is enough” as they say, as the Chinese Ministry of Environmental Protection notified the World Trade Organization that they would no longer accept shipments of 24 different types of plastic, including Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) and many other industrial wastes, in a move to focus more on recycling domestic products and cleaning up extremely polluted surroundings.  Furthermore, polyester plants are being required to abate pollution or close.  While this policy shift is potentially damaging for the American recycling business that has depended heavily on exports, it is inversely positive for cotton farmers across the US.

This comes as welcome news to a cotton market that has been extremely depressed over the past few years, as farmers have been producing the product below the cost of production.  The rise in use of low cost petroleum-based fibers has really hit the market for natural products over the past few years.  Over the past two years, the December 2018 cotton contract futures on the New York Board of Trade have gone below 60 cents per pound, are now in the low 70’s, but still have room to go up before producers become profitable.  Signals in the market show that over the next few years, consumers will shift from cheap polyesters to higher end natural and synthetic fibers.

PET was invented in 1941 and is made from crude oil.  About 60% of PET made worldwide is made into synthetic fibers and another 30% is used to make plastic bottles.  Those bottles can be recycled and then spun into cheap polyester fibers.  While there are higher-end polyesters, a great deal of the polyester we seen in apparel is made quickly and cheaply.   This process produces toxic chemicals and uses lots of fossil fuel energy, which is the concern of the Chinese as they look to improve their environment.

Pollution is a serious concern in China, as they account for just shy of 30% of carbon emissions released on the planet.  To make matters worse, much of the pollution is released in the eastern half of the country and a major portion of it is concentrated to a few cities.  Smog is so thick that in the capital city of Beijing video boards have been installed in Tiananmen Square and other landmarks to show pedestrians and tourists a virtual sunrise.

Further developments in this matter will be interesting to watch.  A word to those interested, policies can change very quickly in China so this isn’t written in stone.  After a year of hurricanes, whiteflies and depressed markets – any news is good news.  It is always interesting to see how one change in a non-agricultural industry on the other side of the world can be a positive force for family farmers here in Georgia.  For more information about this topic and others, please contact the Georgia Contact Commission at www.georgiacottoncommission.org or (478) 988-4235.

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