Recycling for PET packaging reaches 31 percent in 2013

The recycling rate for PET packaging was 31.2% in 2013, which is up slightly from 2012's 30.8%, according to a report from The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) and The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR). Communities in the U.S. collected more PET bottles than ever before in 2013, with a total of 1,798 million pounds. Total PET used in the production of U.S. bottles in 2013 was also higher at 5,764 million pounds, despite sales declines in some beverage market sectors. These bottles included a record 475 million pounds of recycled PET content.

"Demand for recycled PET continues to grow, with domestic use in bottles, polyester fiber and other applications increasing year-over-year," said Tom Busard, NAPCOR chairman, chief procurement pfficer for Plastipak Packaging and president of Clean Tech, Plastipak's recycling affiliate. "Limited recycled PET supply is still a barrier to growth, but PET reclaimers really boosted their operations in 2013, easily absorbing the increase in bottles collected, and pulling back material that had been exported in previous years."

Clean PET flake produced by domestic PET reclaimers from U.S. bottles totaled 974 million pounds, an increase of 24% over 2012. The amount of recycled PET used across domestic end-use market segments also increased from 1,312 million pounds in 2012 to 1,513 million pounds in 2013, with significant gains in PET bottle and fiber end uses. Other trends of note include a continued decrease in export volumes, which represented only 26% of total collection volumes in 2013, the lowest volume since 2004 and the lowest by percentage of total collection since 2000. 

"Despite very real challenges for PET recyclers due to limited supply and decreasing bale yields, this report shows a maturing, entrepreneurial industry that continues to innovate and find new material sources and process efficiencies," said Scott Saunders, APR chairman and general manager, KW Plastics recycling division. "Notably, domestic recyclers are contributing more than 790 million pounds of material back into US production of new PET packaging; this is a significant demonstration of domestic closed loop manufacturing."

Any increase in recycling is good news. And many major brands, such as Nestle Waters, have initiatives in place to include more recycled material in its bottles. According to a Nestle Alive Community Panel held in October 2012, about 65% of consumers actively look for and purchase bottles made from recyclable materials. PlasticsToday talked with a rep from Nestle's Resource bottled brand [Premium brand, recycled bottle for Nestle Waters] who commented that the company would like to eventually use 100% rPET. However, it "will certainly be based on improvements in the recycling rate as well as obtaining true quality PET. We will take any steps further that are needed to get to that goal of 100% sometime in the future."  

NAPCOR and APR acknowledges there are still ongoing challenges. Collection of PET bottles for recycling continues to lag far behind demand, underutilizing a domestic PET recycling infrastructure with more than 2 billion pounds of capacity. Low PET bale yields - a measure of usable PET derived from the recycling process - add significant cost to reclaimer operations and stress the infrastructure, according to the groups. These low yields are due to increasing presence of non-PET materials in PET bales, and the growth of non-recyclable package innovations. The organizations are working to increase both the quality and the quantity of the supply of PET bottles by encouraging improved bale quality, promoting recycling-friendly package design, and fostering greater collection. (Design guidelines at: http://plasticsrecycling.org/market-development/apr-design-guide-for-plastics-recyclability)

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