Plastic Bottle Recycling Sees Growth in 2011

Domestic processing and import sales of post-consumer bottles as export sales decline, report notes.

October 11, 2012
Recycling Today Staff

Plastic bottle recycling by consumers increased 45 million pounds in 2011, increasing by 1.7 percent, to more than 2.6 billion pounds for the year, according to figures released by the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), both of which are based in Washington, D.C. The recycling rate for plastic bottles held steady, inching up one-tenth of 1 percent to reach 28.9 percent for the year, the groups note.

The full 2011 “National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report” can be accessed here.

PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and HDPE bottles continue to make up more than 96 percent of the U.S. market for plastic bottles. However, according to the report, the pounds of HDPE (high-density polyethylene) bottles collected dipped slightly (1 percent) in 2011 to 973.9 million pounds, while the collection rate for HDPE held steady at 29.9 percent. Imports of postconsumer HDPE increased by 106 percent to 51.1 million pounds, which, combined with decreased collection and fallen exports, resulted in slightly higher production in U.S. reclamation plants, according to the report.

Data on PET recycling referenced in the report were separately funded and published by APR and the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR). A separate report, entitled “2011 Report on Post-Consumer PET Container Recycling Activity,” is available on APR’s website.

This year’s survey also found that the recycling of PP (polypropylene) bottles rose to nearly 44 million pounds, an annual increase of nearly 24 percent, with 64 percent of that material processed domestically as PP rather than mixed with other resins. Although PP caps are widely collected for recycling in the United States, these data are included in a separate report on recycling nonbottle rigid plastics, which will be released in the coming weeks.

In 2011, interest in lighter weight packaging continued among manufacturers and retailers, resulting in the use of plastics in new bottle applications; however, market growth was largely offset by trends toward smaller bottles (e.g., concentrated detergents), lighter bottles and the sluggish economy.

Domestic processing of all recycled plastic bottles–including imported materials–rose 89 million pounds from 2010, according to the report.

“With reduced exports and increased imports of recovered bottles, plastic bottle recycling continues to be an international business with domestic companies competing effectively,” says Steve Alexander, executive director of APR. “Being diligent about recycling your plastic bottles is a simple way to strengthen our domestic plastics recycling industry while doing something good for the planet.”

The report verified that single-stream collection continues to grow, helping to boost household participation rates.

“Even with increased collection, demand for recycled plastics far outpaces supply,” says Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council. “We need everyone to do their part to get more plastics into the bin. The good news is that with so many communities adopting single-stream recycling, it has never been easier to recycle many types of plastics.”

Moore Recycling Associates Inc., Sonoma, Calif., conducted the survey of reclaimers for the study.