April 18, 2018 / 2:40 PM / 7 months ago

Norwegian plastics recycler Tomra seeks to expand in China

ASKER, Norway (Reuters) - Norway’s Tomra, the world’s top maker of machines that collect plastic bottles and repay a deposit, is seeking to expand in China as governments worldwide work to limit waste, Chief Executive Stefan Ranstrand said on Wednesday.

He welcomed a decision by Britain last month to impose deposits on single-use drink containers, which drove Tomra’s stock to a 17-year high. Tomra collects 35 billion bottles and cans a year in markets from Germany to California.

“We see a very strong worry in the world right now as a result of the big quantities of plastic in the oceans,” Ranstrand told Reuters.

“We always are very cautious in predicting (future markets for recycling). But we have never seen so much attention to the topic.” Apart from Britain, other recent bottle deposit markets include Lithuania and the Australian state of New South Wales.

In China, Tomra has expanded to 200 employees, from zero in 2009, giving a foothold in a potential vast market. Worldwide, Tomra has 3,400 staff and 2017 revenues of 7.4 billion Norwegian crowns ($953 million).

Tomra’s products include its “reverse vending machines” that pay back a deposit for bottles and cans, other recycling systems and machines that sort food such as potatoes, oranges or apples before packaging.

Ranstrand’s business card is written in English and Chinese.

An expanding middle class in China and a global shift to online shopping will mean burgeoning waste - a book ordered online from Amazon, for instance, comes with far more packaging than one bought in a shop.

“We are putting a lot of emphasis on China for the time being in this direction,” he said, referring to ways to promote online sales and a “circular economy”.

Tomra has both production and research/development for reverse vending machines in China, that could help if Chinese provinces or cities ever impose deposits. “Were there to be a development, then we are ready,” he said.

BLUEBERRIES

China’s restrictions this year on imports of low-grade trash for recycling as part of a policy to limit pollution have raised global awareness of plastic waste, but have not directly affected Tomra, Ranstrand said.

Plastic used in bottles, for instance, is of a high grade that has maintained its value.

He said the firm was not planning imminent acquisitions after takeovers including BBC Technologies, a New Zealand firm that sorts fruits such as blueberries, for NZ$66.9 million ($49 million) in February.

“I think we are pretty happy ... I think we can say we are still looking around if something comes up,” he said.

Tomra has 82,000 reverse vending machines worldwide - led by Germany with 30,000, where it has a 70 percent market share. Other big markets are Nordic nations, parts of Canada and the United States and Australia.

In Germany, where Tomra has upgraded many machines in recent years, installations in 2018 were likely to be at the lower end of a 2,700-3,700 band, and slightly lower in subsequent years.

He saw little chance of expansion in the United States under U.S. President Donald Trump. “We do not have any indications of any emerging opportunities there. If you go down to Texas everything is landfilled,” he said.

($1 = 0.8085 euros)

($1 = 7.7629 Norwegian crowns)

($1 = 1.3650 New Zealand dollars)

Reporting by Alister Doyle; Editing by Dale Hudson

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