Recycling rates for nonbottle rigid and film plastics decrease

Recycling rates for nonbottle rigid and film plastics decrease

Decrease comes despite modest increases in domestic purchasing.


According to the “2017 National Post-Consumer Non-Bottle Rigid Plastic Recycling Report” and the “2017 National Post-Consumer Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Report,” domestic purchasing in both of these categories increased by 2 percent. However, overall recycling for both categories decreased in 2017. Prior to that year, the volume of rigid plastics collected for recycling increased nearly 4.5 times since 2007, and film recycling had grown for 12 consecutive years, more than doubling since 2005, the reports note.

The reports attribute recyclers’ ability to increase domestic sales to their focus on decreased contamination and increased segregation of resins. The category of film that increased in 2017 was material collected through retail programs, including the Wrap Recycling Action Program (WRAP).

The first of the referenced reports found that recycling of postconsumer nonbottle rigid plastics dipped slightly in 2017. A minimum of 1.35 billion pounds was collected for recycling in 2017, down from 1.46 billion pounds in 2016 (a 7 percent decrease).

The second report, which addresses postconsumer plastic film recycling, found that a minimum of 1 billion pounds of film were collected for recycling in 2017, an increase of 54 percent since 2005, but a decrease from the 1.3 billion pounds collected for recycling in 2016.

The reports attribute the decreases primarily to changes in the marketplace. China’s policy to restrict imports of scrap heavily impacted film export. Nonbottle rigid plastics also faced challenges arising from older recycling infrastructure in the United States and Canada, which relied on the Chinese market rather than on added sorting technology.

“Improving plastics recycling and recovery will help us achieve a more circular economy, and we are resolved to do our part,” says Steve Russell, vice president of the Washington-based American Chemistry Council’s (ACC’s) Plastics Division. “In 2018 plastics makers committed to reuse, recycle or recover all plastic packaging by 2040. Across the value chain—from resin producers to brands to recyclers—we see commitments to improve recycling education, invest in infrastructure and use more recycled content. Aligning value chains to incorporate recycled materials into products that are sold and then brought back for recycling will promote circularity and help remedy the current disconnects. Additionally, emerging advanced recycling and recovery technologies, such as chemical recycling, are growing to help meet demand for recycled content and drive a more circular economy. America’s Plastic Makers are taking action to respond to recycling challenges that will help us in the short term and long term.”

Recycled plastic film is used in composite lumber, new film and sheet, agricultural products, crates, buckets and pallets. Plastic film recovered for recycling includes flexible product wrap, bags and commercial stretch film made primarily from polyethylene (PE).

Typical end markets for nonbottle rigid plastics include automotive parts, crates, buckets, pipe, lawn and garden products and thick-walled injection molded parts. The rigid plastics category includes food containers, caps, lids, tubs, clamshells, cups and bulky items, such as buckets, carts and lawn furniture, along with used commercial scrap, such as crates, battery casings and drums. High-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene (PP) comprised the two largest resins in this category, representing 40 percent and 36 percent, respectively, of total rigid plastics collected, the report notes.

The film and the rigids reports were based on an annual survey of reclaimers and exporters conducted by More Recycling, Sacramento, California, and in light of the methodology represents a conservative estimate of the amount recycled, the ACC says.

ACC’s Plastics Division tracks recycling collection annually in three categories: film, rigids and bottles. Statistics on plastic bottle recycling were reported previously in the “2017 United States National Postconsumer Plastic Bottle Recycling Report,” which was released in December 2018.