Report estimates decline in recycled plastic in 2019

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Data shows that the recycling rate for PET bottles in the United States in 2019 was 27.9%, up from 29.0% in 2018. | TeuNg-StyLe / Shutterstock

Slightly less plastic waste from the United States was recycled in 2019, although brand owners reported an increased need for recycled resins.

Nearly 5.1 billion pounds of post-consumer bottles, rigid bottleless plastics, films and other plastics were collected for recycling in 2019, according to a published report by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and the Foundation for Plastic Recycling, which is part of the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR). That number was down by £ 27million, or about 0.5%, from 2018.

In terms of specific categories of bottles, the weight of recovered PET bottles decreased by 2.2% compared to the previous year and the weight of recovered HDPE bottles decreased by 0.8%, according to the report.

“Stable or declining recycling rates are a sign that the system needs help,” said Steve Alexander, President and CEO of APR, in A press release. “The decline in mature recycling streams, such as PET and HDPE bottles, makes brand companies’ commitments to increase recycled content even more difficult. There are many opportunities to support the continued growth of film and non-rigid bottle recycling, as well as to change the course of bottles by focusing on what recyclers need to be successful as they are the engines of the economy. circular.

The data was based on surveys by Stina Inc. (formerly More Recycling) and the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR). It was the first year that the different categories were reported in a single document. In the past, the report on rigid tubes without cylinder was separated from the bottle report.

(APR is the owner of Resource Recycling, Inc., publisher of Plastics Recycling Update.)

Bottle recycling details

Overall, the plastic bottle recycling rate in the United States was 28.4% in 2019, down 0.5 percentage point from 2018, according to the report. The lower percentage rate was due to the fact that more resin was sold to make bottles, but less weight was collected for recycling.

As has been the case for several years, the vast majority of bottles collected for recycling are processed in the country. In 2019, 94.7% of bottle waste was purchased by U.S. and Canadian waste pickers, according to research.

Almost all the bottles are made of PET or HDPE. Here are the details of recycling rates broken down by bottle type:

The recycling rate for PET bottles in 2019 was 27.9%, compared to 29.0% in 2018. This decrease is explained by the fact that more resin was sold in 2019 and less was recovered for recycling.

The recycling rate for natural HDPE bottles was 27.2%, compared to 28.7% the previous year. Resin sales have declined, but the weight recovered has decreased even more.

The rate for color HDPE bottles was 34.2%, up from 31.7% in 2018. Resin sales declined while recovered weight increased.

Finally, the recycling rate for polypropylene bottles is 15.9%, compared to 17.0% the previous year. The weight of bottles produced increased while the weight recovered fell in 2019. The report noted that relatively few PP bottles are sorted into bales of separate PP bottles, and most are sold as mixed rigid bales or bales. of colored HDPE bottles for recycling.

Take-out meals without rigid bottles

The report did not provide an estimate of the overall recycling rate for rigid plastics other than bottles; however, the analysis showed that the total weight of waste purchased for recycling increased by 3.7% in 2019.

As has been the trend for several years, a higher percentage of weight was purchased by American and Canadian waste pickers and less was exported. More specifically, American and Canadian waste pickers acquired 86.6% of the scrap metal sold for recycling in 2019, up from 86% the year before.

About three-quarters of the rigid bottle-less weight purchased for recycling is HDPE and PP, with lower percentages of PET, polystyrene, PVC and other resins.

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As with the bottles without bottle, the estimated total recycling rate for the films was not provided; however, the report provided details of the weights sold for recycling.

In 2019, 977.7 million pounds were collected for recycling in the United States, down 2.4% from the previous year.

The report notes that the shift towards domestic recycling, observed for several years, continued in 2019. The percentage of exports has been declining since 2016.

US and Canadian salvagers purchased 71.5% of the film that was salvaged in 2019, and exported material only accounted for the remaining 28.5%. Just three years earlier, before the Chinese national sword campaign disrupted export markets, the split was 46.7% in the domestic market and 53.3% in exports.

Other plastics first reported

The latest report also estimated the total amount of other plastics collected for recycling. As this was the first time that Stina Inc. has reviewed the category for this report, a year-over-year comparison is not available.

The document showed that 17.4 million pounds of “other plastics” had been collected for recycling in 2019. The bulk – 95% – was exported for recycling, and only 5% went to US waste pickers and Canadian.

The category includes flexible intermediate bulk containers (such as super bags, bins, etc.), agricultural tape, twine and net, and other flexible plastics without film. Stina Inc. reports in the category exclude foams and rugs.

Stina Inc. also warned that the numbers are likely underestimated due to the limited number of survey responses for the category.

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