Plastic Bottle Recycling Tops 3 Billion Pounds : Report: US Plastics Recycling Increases for 25th Straight Year

Plastic bottle recycling in the US grew by 3.3% or 97 million pounds (44,000 metric tonnes) in 2014 according to figures released jointly today by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

The ACC said that the 25th annual National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report marks the twenty-fifth consecutive year that Americans have increased the pounds of plastic bottles collected for recycling since the survey began in 1990, with the total now toping 3 billion pounds (1.36 million tonnes)

According to the report the recycling rate for plastic bottles climbed 1% to 31.8% for the year.

Trends in plastics recycling highlighted in the report include:

Single-stream collection of household recyclables continues to grow, resulting in higher participation rates

Use of plastic bottles in packaging applications is expanding but offset by continued lightening and increased use of concentrates with smaller, lighter bottles

Lack of access to away-from-home recycling continues to be a barrier to increased collection.

The report also showed that during 2014 the collection of high-density polyethylene (HDPE, #2) bottles, a category that includes milk jugs and bottles for household cleaners and detergents, rose to nearly 1.1 billion pounds (500,000 tonnes), a gain of over 62 million pounds (28,100 tonnes) from 2013. The recycling rate for HDPE bottles rose to 33.6%.

Further, a higher percentage of all post-consumer plastic bottle material was found to have been processed by domestic reclaimers in 2014. Exports of all post-consumer plastic bottles rose slightly by weight but fell to the lowest percentage of exports in six years (21.9%) as the amount of bottles collected increased faster than did exports, according to the report.

The authors said that the drop in exports may reflect the strength of the U.S. dollar and growth in domestic reclamation capacity.

U.S. reclamation capacity for HDPE increased to its highest level ever in 2014. Exports of HDPE bottles rose from 15.6% to 19.7% (218 million pounds or 99,000 tonne) of domestically collected material, and domestic reclaimers processed approximately 951 million pounds (431,000 tonnes) of HDPE bottles in 2014.

“The message to American consumers is that plastic bottles are valuable resources even after they’ve been used,” said Steve Alexander, executive director of APR. “Americans generated an estimated $730 million in recycled plastic bottles in 2014. The simple act of recycling helps generate local revenue, supports recycling jobs, and enables us to continue to benefit from these useful resources.”

“This report clearly illustrates 25 years of year-over-year growth in recycling plastic bottles,” added Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council. “Plastics help reduce energy use and conserve resources—and after use, these efficient products and packages are increasingly valued as recycled materials. We’re confident that plastics recycling will continue to grow, and we will continue working to accelerate that growth.”

This year’s survey also found that the collection of polypropylene (PP, #5) bottles jumped 28.3% for the year to reach 79.5 million pounds (36,000 tonne), as the collection rate sprang to 44.9%.

Domestic processing of postconsumer PP bottles grew to 65.3 million pounds (29,500 tonnes). PP bottles deliberately recycled as PP (instead of blended with HDPE) rose from 44.2 million pounds (20,000 tonnes) in 2013 to 45.6 million pounds (20,700 tonnes) in 2014.

The authors also noted that although PP caps, closures and non-bottle containers are widely collected for recycling in the United States, these data are presented in a separate report on recycling non-bottle rigid plastics, which will be released in the coming months (until then see “2013 Rigids Recycling Report”).

Together, polyethylene terephthalate (PET, #1) and HDPE bottles continue to make up nearly 97% of the U.S. market for plastic bottles with PP comprising 1.9%, LDPE 0.8% and PVC 0.4%.

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