- The United States recycled more than 3 billion pounds of post-consumer plastic bottles in 2014, representing a 97 million pound increase from 2013, according to a report from the Association of Plastic Recyclers and the American Chemistry Council. The 2014 figure also marks a recycling rate jump of 31.8%.
- PET and polyethylene constituted 97.2% of the plastic bottle recycling market, and polypropylene accounted for another 2.6%.
- The increase is primarily due to single-stream recycling and how many recycling programs now accept all types of plastic bottles, according to ACC’s managing director of plastics markets, Keith Christman. Despite this increased number of bottles collected, the volume in weight is down.
As environmentalists and recyclers remind consumers of the benefits of recycling and of the harm caused by plastic waste — particularly to marine life — more people are adopting recycling as a routine practice. But convenience has been as powerful a motivator as education, as seen by higher recycling rates when consumers can combine recyclables in one cart rather than have to separate them. This easier approach has proven to increase household participation and volumes.
Movement of recycling programs to start accepting all types of plastic bottles also has helped bring the numbers up, Christman said.
"We know that from studies that have been done over the years. Having more communities recognize the need to collect all plastic bottles makes it easier for people and increases plastic bottle recycling," he said of the 25-year-running upward trend in recycling rates.
Still, recyclers face challenges with new manufacturing trends. For instance, some products are sold in smaller bottles of more concentrated products, and the bottles are lighter. Therefore, while more containers are collected, the volume in weight is decreasing.
"It makes it harder to have dramatic increases in the pounds of recycling if the amount of material going on to the marketplace is growing more slowly," said Christman.
Nonetheless, "All trends are positive this year, in a very tough market. We’re pleased that we continue to both maintain and see slight growth going forward," APR Executive Director Steve Alexander said to Plastics News.