- The polyethylene terephthalate (PET) container recycling rate in the U.S. was 31% in 2014, down very slightly from 31.2% in 2013, according to new statistics from the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) and the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR). The amount of PET recycling, however, increased because overall PET bottle collection volumes increased.
- There were 5.489 billion pounds of PET bottles and jars available for recycling in 2014, up 1.5% from 2013, and the total amount of post-consumer PET bottles collected for recycling hit 1.812 million pounds.
- Exports fell by 14% year over year in 2014, and its 23% of the total post-consumer volumes was the lowest percentage of domestic material purchased for export since 2000. Domestic use hit a record high, increasing from 1.513 billion pounds in 2013 to 1.564 billion pounds in 2014.
"Despite some very real challenges in 2014, including low oil prices and volatile markets, the North American PET reclamation industry continues to process and market more material than ever before," NAPCOR Chairman Tom Busard told Plastics News.
In addition to low oil prices, the market is challenged by U.S. consumers' shift away from carbonated soft drinks to water. The report notes, "Given the light weight of water bottles, their increase in sales does not compensate for the loss of soft drink containers."
APR Chairman Scott Saunders notes other problems like "poor bale quality," but adds that the industry is "resilient and robust, and continues to support significant domestic jobs and economic activity."
Saunders is right if recent industry moves are any indication. National Recovery Technologies of Nashville, TN is entering an agreement with Buhler Sortex, London, to offer better solutions for plastic bottle and flake sorting at MRFs. Additionally, the Polymark Consortium has developed chemical markers that can help identify food-contact PET for the purpose of sorting it in the plastics waste stream.
And despite a plateau in the U.S., there is room to grow globally. A recent market study predicts up to 300 new plastics recycling plants in Europe by 2025. PET trade association Petcore Europe reported that 1.7 million metric tons of PET containers were collected in 2014, up 6.8% from 2013 and representing 57% of the plastic packaging placed on the market that year. PET demand also increased in 2014 by 4.8% by weight.
More resources must be invested in PET recycling. Despite high numbers of PET bottles being collected, the PET recycling industry operating rate dropped from 83% in 2013 to 79% in 2014, according to Resource. Petcore cited pricing "and pressure from low virgin PET resin prices that occurred in the last quarter of the year" for the drop.