Sponsored By

November 30, 2005

2 Min Read
U.S. recycling reinvigorated

For the fifteenth consecutive year, the total pounds of plastic bottles recycled grew in the U.S., reaching a record 1.9 billion lb, but demand for recycled plastic still outpaces consumer participation in reclaim programs, according to a report from the American Plastics Council (APC; Arlington, VA). Still, APC was heartened by the fact that plastic bottle recycling shot up 247 million lb in 2004 over 2003, the largest annual increase in history, showing a growing appreciation by consumers of the need to recycle.

APC points to several stimuli as likely triggers for the increases in recycling, including New York City''s renewed bottle-recycling program; more single-stream curbside programs where plastics and metal can commingle, easing participation; and an increase in the value of recycled plastics, which has prompted recyclers to be more diligent in the removal of resin-based items from the waste stream.

Greater gains could be made in the reclaim of PET and HDPE bottles and containers if consumers recycled bathroom and household cleaning goods at a greater rate, since many don''t currently realize that these too can be reclaimed.

Post-consumer PET reclaim was up the most, 165 million lb, for a total recycling percentage of 21.6% in 2004, up from 19.5% in 2003. Natural HDPE recycling grew by 30 million lb, with pigmented HDPE up 51 million lb, for a total HDPE increase of 81 million lb, and a recycling rate of 25.9% last year.

Overall, the plastic bottle-recycling rate grew to 22.6%, with PET and HDPE, which make up 96% of the plastic bottle market, increasing to 23.5%. PET now makes up 55% of the plastic bottle market, up from 53% in 2002, with the overall recycling stream shifting to 53% PET/47% HDPE in 2004 from 51% PET/49% HDPE in 2003.

Room for recycling growth remains, with 14 PET bottle reclaimers operating in the U.S. at a capacity utilization rate of 67% (up from 59% in 2003). The four largest companies are responsible for processing 426 million lb of the 628 million lb handled in the U.S.

On the HDPE side, there are 30 companies reclaiming HDPE bottles currently in the U.S., with the eight largest processing 669 million of the 758 million total lb recycled.

Exports of post-consumer bottles declined slightly, from 38.3% of reclaimed bottles in 2003 to 37.1% in 2004. This is attributed to the Chinese government''s efforts to restrict the import of post-consumer plastic bales. In all, 372 million lb of recycled PET bottles and 145 million lb of HDPE bottles wound up overseas.

Fiber applications remain the top market for domestically reclaimed PET bottles and going forward, plastic lumber looks to play a growing role, with potential usage in railroad ties, marine pilings, or even foot bridges.-Tony Deligio; [email protected]

Sign up for the PlasticsToday NewsFeed newsletter.

You May Also Like