Half-Full or Half-Empty?  Quartz Companies Looking at Glass to Fill their Coffers

 

Tariffs whacked Chinese quartz surfacing manufacturers and dealers pretty hard (You know who you are). Companies are expected to go out of business, and some have to scrape the bottom of the change bucket to survive.  Tariffs of 400-500% accumulated on Chinese quartz over the past six months, including those from our commander in chief’s trade war, as well as those resulting from a lawsuit Cambria filed against Chinese quartz manufacturers.

 

Here is how it went down:

  • Cambria filed a lawsuit that the Chinese were subsidizing and dumping quartz slabs in the US
  • The ITC agreed
  • The US put tariffs on billions of Chinese goods (including quartz)
  • The tariffs were higher than most had imagined.
  • Then they were retroactive.  Ouch.
  • Containers are piling up at US ports with $$$ pricetags often 110%-500% the value of the goods

 

Some companies saw the massive quartz tariffs coming.  They started sourcing from Turkey, India and other Asian nations.  They protected themselves, while others did not.

 

The manufacturers in China are savvy though.  They are not going to shut their doors. Not going to toss up their hands and say “That was fun while it lasted.”  No, they are looking for a workaround. And the language in the anti-dumping ruling accommodates it.

 

“Specifically excluded from the scope of the investigation are crushed glass surface products. Crushed glass surface products are surface products in which the crushed glass content is greater than any other single material, by actual weight.”

 

Look for these manufacturers to start substituting some of the quartz content with glass.  The actual chemical composition is similar, thought glass is much softer.  There are already Chinese glass/quartz products in the market being tested.  They are not as durable or strong as quartz, because glass is inherently softer.   Early test results show that the glass is not as hard as its quartz counterpart and there are likely going to be other stumbling blocks as well, as the product tries to gain a foothold in the category.

 

It is not clear why the carve-out for glass was there in the first place.  I personally don’t understand why it was so specifically called out in the ruling.  It seems like a deliberate opening for someone or something.

 

From a sustainability standpoint, which is where my business is focused, quartz surfacing has always been a damaging industry, relatively inconsiderate of the ecosystems it damages during its mining and the people that inhale the silica dust that comprises 90% or more of its structure.  There are clearly some more considering quartz companies out there that at least make an effort to be decent stewards, but the base ingredient is a large part of the problem. Glass does not fix that though.


 

The idea of making glass and crushing it to make it a filler seems very wasteful and energy intensive.  If it is recycled glass like IceStone has been doing for years, that is a good story. I just don’t get warm fuzzies when I think about China trying to skirt legislation with an environmental stewardship hat on.

 

There are reputable quartz companies that have tried to stay out of the tariff fray, but the confusion in quartz right now is head-spinning.  Adding this glass “product” in seems like an inferior workaround and these products could find themselves in Cambria’s crosshairs, as could the other countries that have taken on the demand that used to be pointed China’s way.

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