A Slight Rebound

REVERSING A DECADE-LONG decline, the recycling rate for polyethylene terephtalate (PET) containers rose slightly last year. However, despite the improvement, the rate remains far below its peak in the mid-1990s.

According to a report released by the Charlotte, N.C.-based National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), the PET recycling rate for 2004 was 21.6 percent, up 2 percentage points from 2003. NAPCOR attributes the increase to a variety of factors, including an increase in the beverage container deposit under California's bottle bill law, New York City restoring full-service plastics collection and an increase in the number of automatic sorting units at processing plants.

While NAPCOR is applauding the rise, the rate is nearly 20 percentage points below the 1995 rate of 39.7 percent. Industry observers believe the significant decline is due in part to an increased consumption of beverage containers away from home — and away from available recycling receptacles.

More than 4.6 million pounds of PET containers were consumed in the United States in 2004, up about 8 percent from the 4.3 million pounds consumed one year earlier. In 1995, just less than 2 million pounds were consumed.

According to the Arlington, Va.-based Container Recycling Institute, there are environmental costs to the general decline in PET recycling over the past decade. Considering a recycling rate of approximately 20 percent, it takes energy equivalent to 6.5 million barrels of crude oil to replace PET containers that have been disposed of with new ones made from virgin resin.