One Word: Plastics

After nearly a decade of decline, the polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling rate began to pick up in 2004, and that increase continued in 2005 to 23.1 percent. The latest statistics come from a report recently released by the Sonoma, Calif.-based National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) and — for the first time — the Washington-based Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR).

In addition to the second consecutive rate increase, 2005 marked the largest volume of bottles ever collected at 1.17 billion pounds. The report attributes this, in part, to materials recovery facilities installing equipment that can remove PET bottles from commingled container streams as well as bottles that inadvertently ended up in paper streams.

The collection volume also was spurred by a growing supply of PET containers, such as water bottles and new single-serve bottles for wine. In total, more than 5 billion pounds of PET products were available for recycling.

Of the post-consumer material collected for recycling, 58 percent of it was later purchased by U.S. firms, with the rest going to foreign markets, primarily those in Canada and China. Chinese buyers, in fact, accounted for 400 million pounds of the 1.17 billion-pound total. U.S. “reclaimers,” in turn, looked to Canada, Mexico, and Central and South America to boost their own supply.

In general, NAPCOR and APR hailed 2005 as “a good year to be a PET reclaimer.” The first half of the year saw high pricing for virgin PET, making reclaimed PET more attractive. When the market for reclaimed materials began to weaken, the Gulf Coast hurricanes interrupted virgin material production, again boosting prices for “clean flake,” which refers to PET chips that are ready for use in manufacturing. The most popular applications were fiber conversion, strapping, and food and beverage bottles.

The report said 2005 presented “the greatest disparity since the early '90s between the amount of bottles collected in the United States and the reclamation capacity to process them.” The inability to clean the recovered PET containers resulted in a larger demand than supply in some cases. Some firms interviewed recommended establishing a continuing arrangement with suppliers rather than relying on single or intermittent purchases.

Regardless, end-use markets for the material proved strong. “While we are pleased to report a higher recycling rate, there is increased demand for recycled PET,” said Gerri Walsh, NAPCOR chairwoman and director in a press release, pledging to meet that demand.

To download the “2005 Report on Post Consumer PET Container Recycling Activity,” visit or

Year Total U.S. Bottles Produced (million lbs.) Total U.S. Bottles Recycled (million lbs.) Gross Recycling Rate
1995 1,950 775 39.7%
1996 2,198 697 31.7%
1997 2,551 691 27.1%
1998 3,006 745 24.8%
1999 3,250 771 23.7%
2000 3,445 769 22.3%
2001 3,768 834 22.1%
2002 4,007 797 19.9%
2003 4,292 841 19.6%
2004 4,637 1,003 21.6%
2005 5,075 1,170 23.1%