Plastic bottle recycling rate increases

A report by the APR and ACC notes that recycling rate for PET bottles increased to 30.9 percent.

October 21, 2014

domestic recycled plastic bottlesA recently released report notes that domestic plastic bottle recycling increased by 120 million pounds in 2013 from the prior year, a 4.3 percent increase. The increase in bottles collected pushed the total amount of plastic bottles collected for recycling in 2013 to 2.9 billion pounds.

The report, "National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report," adds that the increase for the year resulted in a 2013 plastic bottle recycling rate of 30.9 percent, a 0.4 percent increase from the prior year.
The report was jointly released by the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers (APR) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Washington. 

The two associations note that the 2013 figures mark the 24th consecutive year that there has been an increase in the pounds of plastic bottles collected for recycling.

The report also notes a number of trends that are affecting plastic bottle recycling figures. They include:
  • The single-stream collection of household recyclables continues to grow, resulting in higher participation rates, but also an increase in contamination levels.
  • The use of plastic bottles in packaging applications is expanding but is offset by continued lightweighting and the increased use of concentrates with smaller, lighter bottles.
  • Reclaimers are capturing greater value through enhanced sorting operations.
  • The lack of access to away-from-home recycling continues to be a barrier to increased collection,


The report finds that during 2013, the collection of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles increased to 1.05 billion pounds, a gain of more than 26 million pounds from 2012. The recycling rate for HDPE bottles remained flat at 31.6 percent.

The study also reports that the domestic processing of postconsumer plastic bottles has increased. Meanwhile, exports of postconsumer plastic bottle bales declined from 28.4 percent in 2012 to 20.4 percent in 2013, the lowest level in five years. Exports of HDPE dropped 19 percent to 163 million pounds in 2013, while U.S. reclaimers imported 74 million pounds of HDPE, up from 33 million pounds (or 124 percent) from 2012.

“The data are in, and they clearly show that U.S. reclaimers are able to compete internationally to provide the recycled plastics that our customers demand,” says Steve Alexander, executive director of APR. “America’s plastics recycling industry is growing, vibrant and poised to help brand owners, retailers, and packagers meet their sustainability goals with high quality recycled plastics.”
plastic bottle recycling chart
“Every day, we see more innovative manufacturers using recycled plastics in new and exciting ways,” adds Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the ACC. “Each of us can—and should—help by doing our part to get more used plastics into a recycling bin.”

The 2013 survey finds that the collection of polypropylene (PP) bottles rose nearly 32 percent in a single year to reach 62 million pounds. Domestic processing of postconsumer PP bottles jumped 35 percent to reach nearly 59 million pounds. PP bottles deliberately recycled as PP (instead of blended with HDPE) increased from 34.5 million pounds in 2012 to 44.2 million pounds in 2013. Although PP caps, closures and nonbottle containers are widely collected for recycling in the United States, these data are presented in a separate report on recycling nonbottle rigid plastics, which will be released in the coming weeks.

Together, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and HDPE bottles continue to make up more than 96 percent of the U.S. market for plastic bottles, with PP comprising half of the remaining 4 percent, the report notes. 

Data on PET recycling referenced in the report were separately funded and published by APR and the National Association for PET Container Resources.

The 24th annual "National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report" is based on a survey of reclaimers conducted by Moore Recycling Associates Inc., Sonoma, California.