There’s a strong demand for recycled plastics, so why aren’t more people recycling?

December 03, 2012

At every conference and trade show I've attended this year, one major topic came up without fail: plastics recycling.

This isn't a new initiative and it's certainly not going away anytime soon. Not with the plastics recycling rate hovering around 8%, according to figures from the EPA.

But it's not as if people don't have the opportunity to recycle. After all, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) says more than 80% of Americans have easy access to plastics recycling opportunities, whether you participate in a municipal curbside program or live near a drop-off site.

Still, a national survey found that most Americans aren't feeling confident they're doing enough to help the environment and most say they don't know how, according to ACC's Plastics Make it Possible, which commissioned the survey by Kelton Research .

Only 37% of Americans in the survey say they're "doing enough for the environment," and less than half (46%) say they are "knowledgeable about what it takes to be eco-friendly in my daily life." Two-thirds of Americans say they would like to learn some simple steps that can help the planet.

Well, I guess you can say it's good to know that people do want to help and learn how to be "eco-friendly." People should be encouraged to recycle for many reasons, and the industry definitely has a business case for it.  

Market demand for post-consumer recycled plastics

According to a new industry study from ReportLinker, U.S. demand for post-consumer recycled plastics is forecast to rise 5.9% per year to 3.4 billion lb in 2016.

This increase will be driven by a number of factors, including a growing emphasis on sustainability among packaging and consumer product manufacturers, advancements in processing and sorting technologies allowing a wider variety of plastic to be recycled, and an improved collection infrastructure that raises the plastic recycling rate, the study states.

Continued support by federal, state, and local governments for recycling efforts will also provide a significant boost to recycled plastic collection, processing, and demand. Packaging will continue to be the leading market for recycled plastic in 2016, with the strongest gains expected for food and beverage bottles and clamshell containers, fueled by rising production of recycled resins suitable for food contact uses.

However, the overall rate of plastic recycling in the U.S. will remain relatively low -- 6.5% of total plastic demand in 2016 -- as the study reports the industry faces a number of challenges.

Recycling is minimal in several major plastic markets, including construction products, motor vehicles (other than batteries), and packaging film, due to a lack of collection capability or economical processing. Export sales (particularly to China) siphon off a substantial portion of plastic scrap, and much of what is processed domestically has high levels of contamination. As a result, only 53% of the plastic collected for recycling makes its way to manufactured products in the U.S. market.

Still, the report says that bottles will remain the leading source of plastic for recycling, accounting for about half of all plastic collected in 2016. More rapid gains, however, are

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