Canadian Plastics

Rigid, film plastic recycling rates up in U.S.

Recycling rates in the U.S. for non-bottle rigid plastics and plastic film wraps each improved by 10 per cent in 2016, according to two recently released reports.

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February 21, 2018 by Canadian Plastics

Recycling rates in the U.S. for non-bottle rigid plastics (rigids) and plastic film wraps (film) each improved by 10 per cent in 2016, according to two recently released reports.

Rigids reached a minimum of 1.46 billion lbs and film climbed to 1.3 billion lbs collected for recycling.

These figures are found in the 2016 National Post-Consumer Non-Bottle Rigid Plastic Recycling Report and the 2016 National Post-Consumer Plastic Bag and Film Recycling Report. Both were released at the annual Plastics Recycling Conference, being held in Nashville, Tenn. from Feb. 19-21.

The reports also demonstrated dramatic long-term growth in both plastics recycling categories.

The volume of rigid plastics collected for recycling in 2016 is nearly 4.5 times greater than the volume collected in the 2007 inaugural report.

Additionally, plastic film recycling has grown for 12 consecutive years and has more than doubled since 2005 when the first report was compiled.

“We are pleased to see the increase in plastic film and rigid plastics recycling in 2016 and the dramatic growth over the last decade,” said Steve Russell, the vice president of the American Chemistry Council’s plastic division. “America’s plastic makers are committed to supporting plastics recycling growth through improved infrastructure and education, and believe that these efforts will continue to support the industry in future years.”

Both reports attribute the increase in material collected for recycling partly to demand from export markets. As a result of China’s 2017 policy restricting imports of scrap materials, including plastics, the plastics recycling value chain is working to develop stronger domestic end markets to continue the increase in plastics recovered for recycling.

“From investments in recycling facilities and advanced technologies, to public commitments to use more recycled plastics in products and packaging, we see real dedication from the recyclers and end users to grow end-market opportunities for plastics recycling here in the U.S.,” Russell said.

Currently, recycled plastic film is used in composite lumber, new film and sheet, agricultural products, crates, buckets, and pallets. Typical end markets for non-bottle rigids include automotive parts, crates, buckets, pipe, lawn and garden products, and thick-walled injection molded products.

Plastic film includes flexible product wraps, bags and commercial stretch film made primarily from polyethylene.

The rigid plastics category contains food containers, caps, lids, tubs, clamshells, cups and bulky items, such as buckets, carts and lawn furniture, along with used commercial scrap, such as crates, battery casings and drums.

As in prior years, high-density polyethylene and polypropylene comprised the two largest resins in this category representing 40 per cent and 36 per cent, respectively, of total rigid plastics collected.

Both the film and rigids reports were based on an annual survey of reclaimers conducted by research firm More Recycling.