2015 US plastic bottle recycling rate shows no growth

The 2015 U.S. plastic bottle recycling rate posted a slight decrease of 0.5 percent compared with 2014, according to figures released by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) in the “2015 United States National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report,” available at http://bit.ly/2ellYsw. The overall 2015 U.S. recycling rate for plastic bottles was 31.1 percent, down from 31.7 percent from 2014, according to the report.

Since 2010 plastic bottle recycling has grown by nearly 400 million pounds, increasing on average by nearly 80 million pounds per year, or 2.9 percent annually, the ACC and APR say.

Following 25 consecutive years of growth, several factors contributed to the recent plateau in plastic bottle recycling, the report says, including a decline in material collected for recycling, reduced exports and increased contamination of recyclables. Also, use of plastic bottles in packaging applications continued to expand but was offset by lightweighting and increased use of concentrates with smaller, lighter bottles.

In 2015, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling decreased by 15 million pounds, while collection of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles, including bottles for milk, household cleaners and detergents, dipped by 0.4 percent, or 4.8 million pounds, at just over 1.1 billion pounds for the year. The recycling rate for HDPE bottles declined 0.4 percent to 34.4 percent.

Domestic reclaimers processed more than 1 billion pounds of HDPE in 2015, an increase of 4.4 percent. Total domestic capacity to process postconsumer HDPE grew to 1.46 billion pounds, with reclaimers continuing to use assets to process nonbottle HDPE and polypropylene (PP).

Exports of HDPE fell 16 percent to 184 million pounds, while imports rose by 25 percent to nearly 66 million pounds.

This year’s survey found collection of PP bottles rose nearly 20 percent to 32 million pounds, with the PP collection rate increasing to nearly 18 percent. Data for nonbottle PP recycling are presented in a yet-to-be released report.

Together PET and HDPE bottles make up 97 percent of the U.S. plastic bottle market, with PP comprising 1.8 percent, low-density polyethylene (LDPE) representing 0.8 percent and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) at 0.3 percent, the report states.

Data on PET recycling referenced in the report were funded and published by APR and the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR). A separate report, “Report on PET Container Recycling Activity in 2015,” is available on APR’s website at http://bit.ly/2fjj7SN.

That report says the U.S. achieved a recycling rate of 30.1 percent for PET bottles in 2015, which is down slightly from the 31 percent rate reported for 2014, reflecting a slight year-over-year decrease in U.S. PET bottle collection volumes and an increase in the total volume of PET bottles available for recycling in the U.S., the study says.

Both reports are based on surveys of reclaimers conducted by Moore Recycling Associates Inc. of Sonoma, California.