The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), Florence, Kentucky, and The Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), Washington, have released the “Report on Postconsumer PET Container Recycling Activity in 2017.” According to the report, the 2017 U.S. recycling rate for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles was 29.2 percent, reflecting a slight increase over the 2016 rate of 28.4 percent. The rate increase reflected decreases in total collection volumes and volume of PET bottles available for recycling in the U.S., the organizations say in a news release announcing the report’s availability.
“Demand for rPET continues to be healthy, and we have capacity and infrastructure to meet those needs,” says Tom Busard, NAPCOR chairman, chief procurement officer for Plastipak Packaging Inc. of Plymouth, Michigan, and president of Clean Tech Inc., Plastipak’s recycling affiliate based in Dundee, Michigan. “However, we have more work to do to improve the quality and volume of PET that goes to our reclaimers.”
The recycling rate is derived by using the total volume of recycled PET material purchased by U.S. processors (reclaimers) and export markets in 2017—1,726 million pounds—taken as a percentage of the total volume of PET resin used in U.S. bottles and potentially available for recycling—5,913 million pounds. Of that 1,726 million pounds collected, 1,442 million pounds were purchased and processed by domestic PET reclaimers, according to the report. The remainder of the collected material, 283 million pounds, was sold to export markets, including Canada.
The report notes that export volumes continued to decline in 2017. At 16 percent of total collection, exports during that year accounted for the lowest export fraction recorded since 2004.
The domestic market readily absorbed the bottles not exported, however, according to the report, exhibiting strong demand for the material.
“The key to continued growth in the PET recycling industry is increased demand for rPET by end users and designing bottles for recyclability,” APR President Steve Alexander says. “Increased utilization of RPET provides the connection to meeting ‘circular economy’ sustainability goals announced by many consumer brands.”
He continues, “Despite challenges with increased contamination and demand markets, the rPET industry continues to demonstrate its strength in terms of consistent domestic material purchases and investment in enhanced processing capacity. The industry is superbly situated to work with all segments of the demand market to meet their sustainability challenges.”
The report notes that total volume of RPET used in U.S. and Canadian end-market applications increased by more than 5 percent to 1,574 million pounds in 2017. Fiber, sheet and thermoforms, along with the strapping market, all showed growth compared with 2016, while rPET use in bottles saw a reduction in total pounds.
Both NAPCOR and the APR say they are working to address the industry’s ongoing challenges, with particular focus on improving quality of PET from the waste stream, reducing non-PET contamination in recycling streams and building awareness about the importance of PET recycling at the industry and consumer levels.
This is the 13th year that NAPCOR and APR have partnered to produce this report and the 23rd year that it’s been issued by NAPCOR in its current format. Information contained in the report was obtained through surveys conducted by NewGen Strategies & Solutions, Richardson, Texas, and More Recycling, Sonoma, California, and from data generated internally by NAPCOR.