A recent trade mission to Bangkok highlights opportunities for Oregon recycling companies.
The state's waste recycling equipment businesses are finding niche opportunities in Thailand, as the Southeast Asian nation of 69 million searches for new ways to deal with its huge trash problem.
A ban on landfills in Thailand has spawned myriad solutions: “landfill mining,” the practice of finding and reselling valuable waste, grazing of water buffalo on trash and a booming waste-to-energy industry that processes and burns plastic, rubber and other scraps for fuel.
That's the market Oregon companies hope to tap. On a June trade mission to Bangkok, Dave Girard, recycling market development manager for Eugene-based equipment manufacturer Peterson Pacific, attended the annual ASEAN sustainable energy week trade show, where he pitched Thai businesses on the company's large wood chippers and grinders.
Girard says the landfill ban bodes well for the company. “Anytime a country pulls recycling out of the landfill because they’re running out of space,” he says, “that helps our business.” Peterson machines can free up landfill space in Thailand and surrounding countries by processing organic materials.
Dave Girard (Center) talks with Sunun Setboonsarng (left), a global trade specialist with Business Oregon, on a recent trade mission to Bangkok.
On the trade mission, Girard met with a director and engineer from one of the waste-to-energy companies, Zero Waste. The company processes paper, plastics, wood and other materials from landfills to generate energy.
Zero Waste, along with another Thai company, construction equipment supplier Siam Charn, expressed interest in the Peterson machines, although the company would probably have to shrink the size of the machines to fit the market, Girard says.
“The information we gather on these trips is probably more important than the contacts,” Girard says. “Now we have a better feel for what the market needs.” This trip marked Girard's first foray into Thailand.
Oregon players that are already established in the Thai waste and recycling market include West Salem Machinery and SSI Shredding Systems. Their machines shred, grind and otherwise pulverize landfill waste to turn it into fuel. West Salem’s “super shredder,” can churn through 100 tons of material per hour.
Chris Thompson, the company’s Asia Sales Manager, generates around 15 new leads every year he visits Thailand. Wilsonville-headquartered SSI has installed its massive industrial shredders at more than 80 locations throughout the country.
These Oregon equipment suppliers face stiff competition in the Thai market from China, where suppliers have perfected the art of selling shoddy products to the Thais at appealing prices, Thompson says. “They are very good at lying.”
Pichai Tinsuntisook, a member of the Federation of Thai Industries and an executive at Zero Waste, called the Chinese grip on the waste recycling market “strong and scary.” He said the Chinese will always outcompete U.S. and European companies for large government projects.
A Peterson horizontal grinder in action (Courtesy Peterson Corporation). Girard says this model is the one most likely to sell in Thailand.
More opportunities lie on the horizon, however, as Thailand braces for an influx of unwanted recyclables. Now that China has tired of serving as the world’s trash can, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam are expected to take on the role. The country is also dealing with increasing amounts of “e-waste,” discarded electronics from other countries.
While it’s difficult for U.S. companies to compete for public contracts, Tinsuntisook says they can find opportunities in the private sector. For example, SCG, a large Thai cement and chemical company, uses SSI shredders to turn discarded tires into fuel. Peterson’s large, complex and portable shredders offer something different than China’s small stationary machines.
The trade show offered Peterson a chance to make more connections. “I didn’t have a large volume of visitors,” Girard wrote in his summary of trade show progress. “but the quality was high.”
Business in Bangkok: our coverage of the third annual Business Oregon trade mission to Thailand
To subscribe to Oregon Business, click here.