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Gains made in recycling rigid plastics

Municipal Recycling, Plastics

ACC says more than 1 billion pounds of rigid plastics, excluding bottles, were recycled in 2012.

Recycling Today Staff March 18, 2014

The American Chemistry Council (ACC), Washington, D.C., has released a report estimating that the amount of rigid plastics, excluding bottles, recycled in 2012 rose to nearly 1.02 billion pounds (510,000 tons), an increase of 10 percent over 2011’s figure and triple the amount recycled in 2007, when the industry first began tracking rigid plastics recycling.

The report, 2012 National Report on Postconsumer Non-Bottle Rigid Plastic Recycling, attributes the 82 million-pound increase to rapid growth in the collection of plastics beyond bottles in municipalities across the United States.

“Tripling the recycling rate for rigid plastics in just six years is an amazing accomplishment," says Steve Alexander, executive director of the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers (APR), Washington, D.C. "In a short period of time, rigids have become the fastest growing category of plastics recycling, and we’re excited about the future."

Approximately 57 percent of the rigid plastics collected were processed in the United States and Canada, with the remainder exported (primarily to China). Recycling statistics in 2012 were not affected by China’s Operation Green Fence initiative, which began in February 2013.

At 72 pecent, polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE) plastics comprise the largest portion of postconsumer rigid plastics collected in the United States, with PP making up 38 percent of all rigid plastics recycled and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) constituting 34 percent. According to the report, PP and PE generally have the highest market value  domestically and overseas because they are relatively easy to process and have a wide range of manufacturing uses.

“We are thrilled to see this kind of growth in rigid plastics recycling,” says Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the ACC. “The increasing popularity of large bins and access to single-stream collection programs are making it easy for consumers to recycle their used plastics. We look forward to continuing to work with APR and other stakeholders in the ongoing effort to recycle and recover more plastics.”

Primary domestic end uses for recycled rigid plastics include crates, buckets, pipe, auto parts and lawn and garden products. A small portion of recycled rigid plastics is used in composite materials for products such as outdoor lumber, pallets and railroad ties.

Research for the report was conducted by Moore Recycling Associates, Sonoma, Calif., and commissioned by the ACC’s Plastics Division.

A separate report (available here), also prepared by Moore Recycling Associates, has determined that more than 60 percent of Americans have access to a recycling program that collects rigid plastics.

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