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Plastic bottle recycling falls in U.S.

Plastic bottle recycling declined slightly in 2016, slipping 2.4 per cent to just over 2.9 billion pounds, a new report said.


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November 8, 2017 by Canadian Plastics

Hit by a variety of factors, plastic bottle recycling remained strong but declined slightly in 2016, slipping 2.4 per cent to just over 2.9 billion pounds, according to new figures released jointly 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 per cent, down from 31.1 per cent in 2015.

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

Following more than 20 consecutive years of growth, factors that contributed to the recent decline included a slight drop in material collected for recycling, changing export markets, and increased contamination of recyclables, the report said. 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, PET recycling decreased by 44 million pounds. The collection of high HDPE bottles, which includes bottles for milk, household cleaners and detergents, fell by 31.7 million pounds (2.8 per cent) to just over 1.1 billion pounds for the year. The recycling rate for HDPE bottles slipped from 34.4 per cent to 33.4 per cent.

Exports of HDPE bottles rose nearly 5 per cent from 184 million pounds in 2015 to 193 million pounds (or 16.4 per cent of total HDPE bottles collected) in 2016. The amount of HDPE reported processed in the U.S. fell by 37 million pounds (or nearly four per cent) 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,” said Steve Alexander, president of APR. “The key to continued growth lies in improving our sorting and collection technologies to deliver consistent, high quality yields that strengthen our global competitiveness.”

On the plus side, the collection of PP bottles rose nearly 15.3 per cent this year to reach 36.6 million pounds, as the PP collection rate climbed to over 20 per cent.

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