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NAPCOR Report Shows US Demand for rPET Grew, as Collection Dipped, in 2020

Image: warloka79/Adobe Stock PET bottle recycling plant
Last year, for the first time, bottles and jars bypassed fiber as the largest end market for recycled PET (rPET).

Trends in polyethylene terephthalate (PET) recycling in the United States, Canada, and Mexico during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic are the focus of the newly released “2020 PET Recycling Report” from the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR).

The 26th annual report from the association based in Charlotte, NC, reveals that from 2010 to 2020 the amount of recycled PET (rPET) used in end markets increased by 800 million pounds, with consumption in the United States and Canada growing from 1 billion to 1.8 billion pounds.

Recycled PET use in 2020
The amount of recycled PET used in US and Canadian end markets increased by 800 million pounds between 2010 and 2020. Graphic courtesy NAPCOR.

The report notes a 10% increase in end-use consumption of rPET in the two countries, signaling robust industry support for recycled content in consumer goods packaging, despite the pandemic.

In addition, bottles and jars leapt ahead of fiber for the first time as the largest end market for postconsumer rPET; the bottle categories (food/beverage and non-food/beverage) grew 32% in total.

“This continued increase of postconsumer rPET usage in bottles and jars is encouraging and points to a commitment toward a circular economy by brand owners,” said Tom Busard, NAPCOR Chairman, in a prepared statement. Busard is also Chief Procurement Officer for Plastipak Packaging and President of Clean Tech, Plastipak’s recycling affiliate.

The rPET supply side, however, reflected the strain of the pandemic on recycling operations, with PET bottle collection dropping about 2.3% in the United States. Overall, the recycling rate for PET bottles dropped from 27.9% in 2019 to 26.6% in 2020. The report cites pandemic-related closures of PET-bottle redemption centers and disruption in curbside recycling programs for the decreases.

More broadly, the PET recycling rate for the United States, Mexico, and Canada combined dipped in 2020 to 33.9%, down from 35% the year before.

An analysis of the PET thermoform market, a new feature in the 2020 report, shows that the postconsumer collection volume of thermoformed PET packages in 2020 surpassed the 2019 volume.

“PET thermoforms have been a significant and growing end market over the years,” said Darrel Collier, NAPCOR Executive Director. “We have worked to better understand the challenges involved with recycling PET thermoforms, which still exist, and are encouraged with the work being done by our PET reclamation and thermoform industry to incorporate [them] into packaging, thus, closing the loop.”

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