Plastic Bottle Recycling Increases for 24th Year

plastic bottles

by | Oct 17, 2014

plastic bottlesPlastic bottle recycling grew 120 million pounds in 2013, edging up 4.3 percent, to top 2.9 billion pounds for the year, according to figures released by the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers and the American Chemistry Council.

The recycling rate for plastic bottles climbed 0.4 percent to 30.9 percent for the year.

The 24th annual National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report marks the 24th consecutive year that Americans have increased the pounds of plastic bottles returned for recycling. The pounds of used bottles collected for recycling in the US has grown each year since the industry survey began in 1990.

Trends in plastics recycling highlighted in the report include:

  • Single-stream collection of household recyclables continues to grow, resulting in higher participation rates but also increased contamination.
  • Use of plastic bottles in packaging applications is expanding but offset by continued lightweighting and increased use of concentrates with smaller, lighter bottles.
  • Reclaimers are capturing greater value through enhanced sorting operations.
  • Lack of access to away-from-home recycling continues to be a barrier to increased collection.

During 2013, the collection of high-density polyethylene (HDPE, #2) bottles — a category that includes milk jugs and bottles for household cleaners and detergents — rose to 1.05 billion pounds, a gain of over 26 million pounds from 2012. The recycling rate for HDPE bottles remained flat at 31.6 percent.

Domestic processing of post-consumer plastic bottles is up, according to the report. Exports of post-consumer plastic bottle bales fell from 28.4 percent to 20.4 percent, their lowest level in five years. Exports of HDPE, specifically, dropped 19 percent to 163 million pounds in 2013, while US reclaimers imported 74 million pounds of HDPE, up from 33 million pounds (or 124 percent) from 2012.

This year’s survey also found that the collection of polypropylene (PP, #5) 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) shot from 34.5 million pounds in 2012 to 44.2 million pounds in 2013. Although PP caps, closures and non-bottle containers are widely collected for recycling in the US, these data are presented in a separate report on recycling non-bottle rigid plastics, which will be released in the coming weeks.

Together, polyethylene terephthalate (PET, #1) and HDPE bottles continue to make up over 96 percent of the US market for plastic bottles, with PP comprising half of the remaining 4 percent.

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

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