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U.S. recycled less plastic in 2017, EPA says

The U.S. plastics recycling rate fell to its lowest level in half a decade, according to new figures from the agency.


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November 26, 2019 by Canadian Plastics

The U.S. plastics recycling rate fell to its lowest level in half a decade, new figures from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show.

The plastics recycling rate decreased from 9.0% in 2015 to 8.4% in 2017, the EPA said – the 2017 figure covers plastics used in both durable and nondurable products. The last time it was this low was in 2011, EPA said, when the recycling rate was 8.3%.

In terms of plastic packaging, a category of nondurables, the rate decreased from 14.6% in 2015 to 13.0% in 2017. The data showed relative strength in the recycling rate for PET and HDPE natural containers but a significant drop in the rates for “other plastics containers” and films.

Overall, the U.S. used and discarded more plastic but recycled less of it in 2017, the figures show. The weight of plastic generated was 35.4 million tons in 2017, an increase of 2.6% over 2015. The weight recycled in 2017 totaled 3.0 million tons, down 5.1% from 2015. The weight burned for energy recovery in 2017 was 5.6 million tons, up 4.9% from 2015. The weight landfilled was 26.8 million tons, up 3% over 2015.

Across all municipal solid waste (MSW), the U.S. national recycling and composting rate increased from 34.7% in 2015 to 35.2% in 2017, EPA said.

Total weight recycled increased from 91.0 million tons in 2015 to 94.2 million tons in 2017, EPA said, which was up 3.5%. Weight burned for energy recovery increased from 33.6 million tons in 2015 to 34.0 million tons in 2017, up 1.4%. Weight landfilled increased from 137.6 million tons in 2015 to 139.6 million tons, up 1.4%.

In a statement responding to the EPA’s latest figures, The American Chemistry Council (ACC) blamed the recent decline, in part, on the widespread impacts of China’s “National Sword” policy, which has curtailed Asian markets for U.S. recyclers. “At the same time, we’re heartened that one consequence of China’s policy has been a wave of new announcements and investments in domestic recycling here in the United States,” Steve Russell, vice president of ACC’s Plastics Division, added in the statement. “These announcements are coming from across the value chain, from plastics makers and consumer brand companies, to traditional and advanced recyclers, which are adapting quickly and decisively to the new landscape. Data show that domestic markets for recycled plastics are increasing, and we expect this trend to accelerate.”