Study finds more than 60 percent of US can access recycling programs for many plastics

Study finds more than 60 percent of US can access recycling programs for many plastics

Data from Resource Recycling Systems and Moore Recycling Associates' study are relevant to green marketing claims, according to the American Chemistry Council.

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August 12, 2016

According to a new study, more than 60 percent of the U.S. population has access to recycling programs for several types of plastics, including polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE) tubs and containers.    

The study, “2015-16 Centralized Study on Availability of Plastic Recycling,” conducted by Resource Recycling Systems, Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Moore Recycling Associates Inc., Sonoma, California, measured the percentage of the U.S. population with access to programs that recycle specific categories of everyday plastic packaging, such as bottles, caps, cups, tubs and containers.

According to the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division, the report is significant not only because it reveals growth in U.S. recycling programs but also because it provides data relevant to the potential assertion of green marketing claims. In general, the Federal Trade Commission requires that for an item to be marketed as “recyclable” (without qualification), a substantial majority (at least 60 percent) of consumers where the item is sold must have established recycling systems available.

Among the study’s key findings are that a large percentage of U.S. consumers can recycle plastic tubs, containers and buckets, with 70 percent of consumers able to recycle PP tubs and containers, 69 percent able to recycle low-density polyethylene/linear low-density polyethylene (LDPE/LLDPE) tubs, 61 percent able to recycle PP cups and 60 percent able to recycle polystyrene (PS) containers.

Other results show that a significant majority of Americans can recycle plastic bottles, though availability may fluctuate based on the type of plastic: 92 percent of consumers can recycle HDPE bottles, such as milk jugs; 78 to 81 percent can recycle bottles made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), LDPE, LLDPE, PP and other plastics; and 76 percent of consumers can recycle caps.

“These latest numbers show that more Americans are able to recycle more plastics than ever before,” says Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council (ACC), Washington. “Plastics makers, brand owners, retailers and recyclers are continuing to work together to increase the types of plastics collected for recycling and to strengthen consumers’ awareness of these opportunities. We look forward to seeing growth in plastics recycling continue.”

Programs to improve plastics recycling include research and demonstration projects to evaluate new technologies, promoting policies to expand local recycling programs and increasing consumer awareness of growing opportunities to recycle common types of plastic packaging, the ACC notes.

Resource Recycling Systems and Moore Recycling Associates conducted the study on the availability of plastics recycling as part of a larger effort, the “2015-16 Centralized Study on Availability of Recycling,” which looked at 49 different types of packaging. The study was commissioned by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC), a project of GreenBlue, Charlottesville, Virginia. The SPC study marks the first time 12 packaging groups have agreed on a single methodology to measure recycling availability, the ACC says, noting its Plastics Division supported the SPC study and the plastics specific portion.