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Non-bottle rigid plastics recycling rises in North America in ‘08

The amount of post-consumer non-bottle rigid plastics collected for recycling in 2008 was up nearly 11% from 2007. The report, prepared by Moore Recycling Assoc. Inc. and released on March 3 by the American Chemistry Council (ACC), found that 361 million lb of post-consumer non-bottle rigid plastics were collected in 2008, with "much" of the recycled material used to manufacture new products, such as pallets, crates, composite lumber, and gardening items.

According to the report, 62% of the material was manufactured into new products in the U.S. or Canada, with the remainder exported, primarily to China. Since 2007, the ratio of export to domestic purchases has flip-flopped, according to the ACC, with 38% of the non-bottle rigid plastics collected in the U.S. exported to China in 2008, down from 63% in 2007. Of the 361 million lb collected, 54% or 194 million lb could be classified as durable goods, including items like pallets, crates, carts, 5-gallon buckets, and electronic housings. A large percentage of non-bottle rigid plastics collected were polyolefins.

The report also found that the number of communities collecting mixed rigid plastics also has grown, partially in response to demand from domestic and export buyers. In 2008, 28 of the 100 largest U.S. cities collected non-bottle rigid plastics through curbside programs, with a growing number of communities recovering and recycling this material.

Additionally, the report said plastic scrap prices were strong the first three quarters of 2008. Demand dropped from all-time highs in July 2008 to very low levels for some low-grade materials, with export business coming to an abrupt halt for most mixed-resin plastic scrap bales. The report found that domestic buyers, while affected by the economic downturn, continued purchasing the scrap, increasing buys in some cases due to bargain prices. The market began to rebound toward the end of Q1 2009, and while current pricing and demand is not back to record highs, it is described as "strong and steady." The ACC says most commodities have recovered to more than half their previous high prices, but the association stresses that the market crash of 2008 highlighted the need for strong domestic processing so that the market isn't overly reliant on scrap exports.

In terms of local capabilities, total North American capacity for processing non-bottle rigid plastic is approximately 530 million lb/year, with just over half of that capacity feeding mixed-resin products such as lumber, railroad ties, garden products, and transport packaging. These users prefer the olefin fraction but in some cases will tolerate and use some non-olefin bottles and containers.

The report includes nondurable items or packaging, such as high-density polyethylene (HDPE) tubs, polypropylene (PP) cups, and similar food containers, as well as durable items, such as pallets, crates, carts, 5-gallon buckets, and electronic housings. Its data come from information supplied by 47 post-consumer plastic processors, end users, and exporters across the U.S., including 21 plastic processors/end‐users and 26 exporters.—[email protected]

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