PET recycling rate posts slight increase in 2013

The PET recycling rate hit 31 percent in 2013, according to NAPCOR and APR report.

October 13, 2014

The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), Sonoma, California, and the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR), Washington, have jointly released the “Report on Postconsumer PET Container Recycling Activity in 2013.” 

In the report, the two groups note that the domestic recycling rate for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles reached 31.2 percent in 2013, a slight increase from the prior year’s recycling rate of 30.8 percent. The report notes that slightly less than 1,798 million pounds of PET bottles were collected for recycling by domestic sources in 2013. Total PET used in the production of U.S. bottles in 2013 was also higher at 5,764 million pounds, despite sales declines in some beverage market sectors. These bottles included 475 million pounds, or about 8 percent, of recycled PET content.

“Demand for recycled PET continues to grow, with domestic use in bottles, polyester fiber and other applications increasing year-over-year,” says Tom Busard, NAPCOR chairman and chief procurement officer for Plastipak Packaging Inc., Plymouth, Michigan, and president of Clean Tech, Plastipak’s recycling affiliate. “Limited recycled PET supply is still a barrier to growth, but PET reclaimers really boosted their operations in 2013, easily absorbing the increase in bottles collected, and pulling back material that had been exported in previous years.”

Clean PET flake produced by domestic PET reclaimers from U.S. bottles totaled 974 million pounds, an increase of 24 percent over 2012. The amount of recycled PET used across domestic end market segments also increased, from 1,312 million pounds in 2012 to 1,513 million pounds in 2013, with significant gains in PET bottle and fiber end uses.

Other trends the report notes include a continued decrease in export volumes, which represented only 26 percent of total collection volumes in 2013, the lowest volume since 2004 and the lowest by percentage of total collection since 2000.

“Despite very real challenges for PET recyclers due to limited supply and decreasing bale yields, this report shows a maturing, entrepreneurial industry that continues to innovate and find new material sources and process efficiencies,” says Scott Saunders, APR chairman and general manager of KW Plastics’ Recycling Division, Troy, Alabma. “Notably, domestic recyclers are contributing more than 790 million pounds of material back into U.S. production of new PET packaging; this is a significant demonstration of domestic closed loop manufacturing.”

While the report holds a lot of good news, NAPCOR and APR continue to acknowledge the industry’s ongoing challenges. Collection of PET bottles for recycling continues to lag far behind demand, underutilizing a robust domestic PET recycling infrastructure with more than 2 billion pounds of capacity.

In the report, the groups note that low PET bale yields—a measure of usable PET derived from the recycling process—add significant costs to reclaimer operations and stress the infrastructure. These low yields are in light of increasing presence of non-PET materials in PET bales and the growth of nonrecyclable package innovations. The organizations are working to increase both the quality and the quantity of the supply of PET bottles by encouraging improved bale quality, promoting recycling-friendly package design, and fostering greater collection. (Design guidelines are available at plastics-recyclability.)

This is the ninth year that NAPCOR and the APR have partnered to produce the report and the 19th year that it has been issued by NAPCOR in its current format. The full report can be found on the NAPCOR and APR websites, and