HDPE Recycling Efforts Tops 1 Billion Pounds

Associations say bottle recycling rate nears 32 percent.

November 12, 2013
Recycling Today Staff

The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), both based in Washington, D.C., have released figures showing that plastic bottle recycling increased by 161 million pounds in 2012, driving the total bottle recycling level to 2.8 billion pounds for the year. The figures pushed the plastic bottle recycling rate to 30.5 percent for 2012.

The figures, reported in the recently released “23rd Annual National Postconsumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report,” marks the 23rd consecutive year that Americans have increased the pounds of plastic bottles returned for recycling, according to the two associations. The number of pounds of used bottles collected in the United States has grown each year since the industry survey began in 1990.

During 2012, the collection of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles increased by 45.3 million pounds to top 1 billion pounds for the first time. The increase pushed the HDPE bottle recycling rate to 31.6 percent.

“We are very encouraged by the steady growth in plastic bottle recycling,” says Steve Alexander, executive director of APR. “Used plastics are valuable materials, and recyclers rely on all of us to make sure these resources make it into a recycling bin.”

Steve Russell, ACC vice president of plastics, says, “Thanks to increased consumer access to recycling programs and growth in single-stream collection—whereby consumers place all recycled materials into a single bin—plastics recycling is one of the easiest things we can do to benefit the planet.”

Russell adds, “In the United States, we have the capacity to recycle more used plastics than we are currently collecting, and innovative manufacturers are using these materials in new and exciting ways.  Each of us can help by doing our part to get more used plastics into a recycling bin.”

This year’s survey of plastic bottle recycling also found that the collection of polypropylene (PP) bottles rose to nearly 47 million pounds, an increase of 7.2 percent, with 73 percent of that material processed domestically as PP rather than mixed with other resins. Domestic processing of postconsumer PP bottles increased 14 percent to reach 43.5 million pounds.

Together, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and HDPE bottles continue to make up more than 96 percent of the U.S. market for plastic bottles, with PP bottles comprising half of the remaining 4 percent, the associations say.

Exports of HDPE bottles rose 30 million pounds to 201 million pounds in 2012, while imports of postconsumer HDPE decreased by 35 percent to 33.1 million pounds, which, combined with increased collection and exports, resulted in slightly lower purchases for U.S. reclamation plants, according to the report.

The full 2012 report "National Postconsumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report" is available on the Reports and Publications section of ACC’s website and on APR’s website.

The survey of reclaimers in the study was conducted by Moore Recycling Associates Inc., Sonoma, Calif.