Need to Know

APR, ACC: Plastic Bottle Recycling Falls In 2016

The overall recycling rate for plastic bottles for the year was 29.7 percent, down from 31.1 percent in 2015.

Plastic bottle recycling declined slightly in 2016, slipping  2.4 percent to just over 2.9 billion pounds, according to figures released jointly today by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

The 27th Annual National Postconsumer Plastic Bottle Recycling Report indicates the overall recycling rate for plastic bottles for the year was 29.7 percent, down from 31.1 percent in 2015.

The five-year compounded annual growth rate for plastic bottle recycling was 2.1 percent. 

According to the groups, following more than 20 consecutive years of growth, factors which contributed to the recent decline include a slight drop in material collected for recycling, changing export markets and increased contamination of recyclables. In addition, growth in the use of plastic bottles in packaging was offset by continuing progress in lightweighting and increased use of concentrates with smaller, lighter bottles.

In 2016, polyethylene terephthalate (PET, #1) recycling decreased by 44 million pounds. The collection of high density polyethylene (HDPE, #2) bottles, which includes bottles for milk, household cleaners and detergents, fell by 31.7 million pounds (2.8 percent) to just more than 1.1 billion pounds for the year. The recycling rate for HDPE bottles slipped from 34.4 percent to 33.4 percent.

Exports of HDPE bottles rose nearly five percent from 184 million pounds in 2015 to 193 pounds (or 16.4 percent of total HDPE bottles collected) in 2016. The amount of HDPE reported processed in the U.S. fell by 37 million pounds (or nearly 4 percent) to just under 993 million pounds.

“Some U.S. recyclers are seeing these short-term challenges as opportunities to innovate and invest in our plastics recycling infrastructure,” APR President Steve Alexander said in a statement. “The key to continued growth lies in improving our sorting and collection technologies to deliver consistent, high quality yields that strengthen our global competitiveness.”

“Plastics recycling has a track record of long-term growth spanning 25 years,” Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for ACC, said in a statement. “Post-use plastics are valuable materials that have weathered many cycles and different growth factors. From resin suppliers to recyclers to brand owners, the plastics value chain is working together to continue to create new opportunities and long-term solutions.”

This year’s survey found the collection of polypropylene (PP, #5) bottles rose nearly 15.3 percent to reach 36.6 million pounds, as the PP collection rate climbed to over 20 percent. PP caps, closures and non-bottle containers are widely collected for recycling in the United States, and these data are presented in a separate report on recycling non-bottle rigid plastics, which will be released in the coming months.

Together, PET and HDPE bottles make up 97.1 percent of the U.S. market for plastic bottles with PP comprising 1.8 percent, LDPE 0.7 percent and PVC 0.3 percent. 

The 2016 United States National Postconsumer Plastic Bottle Recycling Report is based on a survey of reclaimers conducted by More Recycling, formerly Moore Recycling Associates Inc.

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