US PET bottle recycling rate declines in 2016

US PET bottle recycling rate declines in 2016

Report from NAPCOR and APR also shows that domestic PET purchases were consistent, while exports declined relative to 2015.

November 1, 2017

Photo: iStock

The 2016 U.S. recycling rate for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles was 28.4 percent, which reflects a 2.4 percent decrease in total collection volumes and an increase of more than 3 percent in the total volume of PET bottles available for recycling in the U.S. The information is courtesy of the “Report on Postconsumer PET Container Recycling Activity in 2016,” which was released by the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), Florence, Kentucky, and The Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), Washington.

The full “Report on Postconsumer PET Container Recycling Activity in 2016” can be found on the NAPCOR and APR web sites at and at, respectively.

“This was a strong year for PET bottle market growth, but another difficult one for the PET recycling industry,” says Tom Busard, NAPCOR chairman, chief procurement officer for Plastipak Packaging Inc. and president of Clean Tech, Plastipak’s recycling affiliate. “The challenges we saw in 2015—low virgin resin pricing and uncertain demand in both recycled scrap and rPET (recycled PET) end markets—continued to impact the industry in 2016. Despite these obstacles, the volume of PET collected in the United States and utilized by domestic reclaimers stayed consistent with that of 2015, and rPET used in domestic end market applications was up.”

The report’s recycling rate is derived by using the total volume of recycled PET material purchased by U.S. processors (reclaimers) and export markets in 2016—1,753 million pounds—taken as a percentage of the total volume of PET resin used in U.S. bottles and potentially available for recycling—6,172 million pounds. Of that 1,753 million pounds collected, 1,374 million were purchased and processed by domestic PET reclaimers, with the balance of collected material, 379 million pounds, sold to export markets, including Canada. This was the lowest export volume reported since 2004, comprising 22 percent of the total postconsumer PET volumes collected, according to the report. Exports to Asia and other markets outside North America dropped 11 percent over 2015, marking the sixth year of offshore export decline.

“The PET recycling industry has taken some knocks this year, yet continues to demonstrate its strength in terms of consistent domestic material purchases and robust use of rPET in end market sectors,” says Steve Alexander, APR president. “This is an established, vibrant and resilient industry, but its significant challenges make it increasingly incumbent upon the broader value chain—from collection to end market users—to address key issues, including increasing the quantity and quality of collection, designing bottles for recyclability and fostering strong end market demand.”

Total volumes of rPET used in U.S. and Canadian end market applications increased by more than 5 percent to 1,501 million pounds in 2016. Fiber, bottle and strapping markets all showed growth in 2016, while rPET use in sheet and thermoforms dropped, most likely because of the effect of low virgin prices on this market segment, according to the report.

NAPCOR and the APR say they continue to work to address the industry’s ongoing challenges, focusing on how to maximize the capture of PET from the waste stream, improve efficiency in processing, reduce non-PET contamination in recycling streams and encourage awareness and understanding of APR’s Design for Recyclability Guidelines.

This is the 12th year NAPCOR and the APR have partnered to produce this report and the 22nd year it has been issued by NAPCOR in its current format. Information for the report was obtained through surveys conducted by NewGen Strategies & Solutions, Richardson, Texas, and by More Recycling, Sonoma, California,  and from data generated internally by NAPCOR. Support also was provided by Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The APR will host a “2016 National Postconsumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Rate Report Overview” webinar Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017, from 1-2 p.m. EST. Visit for more information and to register.