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Recycling access for HDPE, PET containers crosses key threshold

New Orleans—For the first time, recycling access for two broad segments of packaging is sufficiently widespread to label these containers "recyclable" without the need for additional qualification or disclaimer.

The American Chemistry Council announced at the Plastics Recycling Conference that recycling access for HDPE rigid cups, tubs, and containers and PET trays, clamshells, and cups has crossed the 60% threshold allowing brandowners that use those packages to label them as recyclable per Federal Trade Commission's guidelines.

The ACC, working with Moore Recycling Associates Inc., said in the report that critical mass for recycling non-bottle rigid plastics was reached in large part due to a "substantial increase in the number of communities that are now collecting many types of rigid plastics in addition to bottles." A 2012 National Reach study found that more than 1400 cities and 300 counties in the U.S. now collect all rigid plastic containers, not just bottles.

Fully 61% of rigid plastics collected in the U.S. were recycled compared to slightly more than one-third recycled in 2007, when Moore Recycling began measuring rigid plastics collection.

Excluding bottles, rigid plastics recycling jumped 13% in 2011 to reach at least 934 million lb for the year. U.S. consumers with local access to recycle all non-bottle rigid plastics rose from 40% to 57% between 2011 and 2012.

Polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE) comprise 70% of postconsumer non-bottle rigid plastics collected in the U.S., with PP making up 39% of all rigid plastics recycling and high-density PE constituting 31%.

Are PP containers next?
Speaking on a panel at the Plastics Recycling Conference, Steven Russell, VP of the ACC's plastics division, cited the report, and what it could mean for rigid PP packaging, as cause for a brighter outlook.

"This is going to be a great year, starting today," Russell said. "The reason for my optimism is access to recycling has either turned or is about to turn, so that we can put recyclable on more plastic packages."

Right now, 58.4% of U.S. consumers are currently able to recycle rigid PP containers locally, making them the next likely class of rigid plastics to approach FTC's "recyclability" threshold.

On there, per the Sustainable Packaging Coalition's How2Recycle label system, they will surpass the "Limited Recycling/Check Locally" category and meet criteria for the "Widely Recycled" category.

The recycling of plastic film grew 4% in 2011 to top 1 billion lb for the first time, and the recycling of plastic bottles climbed 45 million lb in 2011, edging up 1.7%, to reach more than 2.6 billion lb for the year.

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