A report from the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) indicates that 2021 saw the largest amount of post-consumer polyethylene terephthalate (PET) ever collected in the US, including bottles and thermoforms.
US bottle collection that year exceeded 1.9 billion lb for the first time. In addition, collection of post-consumer PET via deposit redemption systems grew 46%, year over year.
Thermoform collection in the US and Canada also reached a record high of 142 million lb in 2021.
NAPCOR’s 2021 PET Recycling Report further indicates that the US PET recycling rate rose from 27.1% to 28.6% between 2020 and 2021. The North American rate increased from 34.2% to 36.8% during the same period.
“These rates mark two major milestones in the growth of PET awareness, appreciation, use, and reuse,” says Laura Stewart, NAPCOR’s executive director, in a prepared statement. “The 2021 increase is a powerful indicator that pandemic-driven disruptions to recycling services are getting back on track.”
Stewart added, “It is also important to point out that the North American rate is over the 30% recycling threshold suggested by the Ellen McArthur Foundation. This is viewed by many industry pundits as the post-consumer benchmark for proving that recycling works in practice and scale across multiple regions representing at least 400 million inhabitants.”
The first solid progress toward circularity for thermoformed PET trays occurred in 2021, with converters using 11 million lb of PET thermoforms to produce new thermoforms.
Fully 73% of the record volume of post-consumer PET thermoforms collected in 2021 in the United States and Canada was processed by PET reclaimers, companies that buy post-consumer PET and sell clean, recycled PET flake or pellet.
Recycled PET (rPET) textile fiber producers experienced higher prices and fiercer competition for clear rPET in 2021 — but still managed to produce more than 1 billion lb of rPET fiber, partly by sourcing more colored rPET flake and post-industrial rPET flake.
In both 2020 and 2021, the consumption of rPET for bottles (food/ beverage and other) surpassed demand in the RPET fiber market in the United States and Canada. Food/beverage, as a discreet category, was the biggest rPET user in 2021.
NAPCOR continues its work to educate the public about PET and recycling. Stewart explains, “The more we increase awareness of PET and motivate proper, consistent recycling levels, the closer we will get to put the US on par with global recycling rates and, most importantly, the greater the impact we will have on the planet.”