US Recycling Rate Rises Just Slightly but End Market Demand Stays Strong

The US recycling rate for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles rose to 29.2% in 2017, up slightly from 28.4% in 2016, according to new research. The report, released last week from National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) and the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), indicates that demand for recycled PET continues to be healthy, and that the capacity and infrastructure exist to meet demand.

Total postconsumer bottles recycled and used by US processors (reclaimers) was supported by strong domestic demand for the material. In terms of recycled PET (RPET) used in US and Canadian end market applications, total volumes increased by more than 5% in 2017. However, more work must be done to improve the quality and volume of PET that goes to reclaimers, says NAPCOR chairman Tom Busard.

NAPCOR and the APR are working together to address the challenges of improving the quality of PET from the waste stream, reducing non-PET contamination in recycling streams, and building awareness at both industry and consumer levels of the importance of recycling PET.

But the real key to continued growth in the PET recycling industry hinges on increased demand for RPET by end users like consumer brands that have announced “circular economy” sustainability goals, according to the organizations. “The industry is superbly situated to work with all segments of the demand market to meet their sustainability challenges,” says Steve Alexander, APR president. “Despite challenges with increased contamination and demand markets, the RPET industry continues to demonstrate its strength in terms of consistent domestic material purchases, and investment in enhanced processing capacity.”

Unilever is one company that has recently pledged to improve the amount of recycled material in its packaging, thereby moving recycled content “back into the value chain.” Others include McCormick & Company and Adidas. Amazon, meanwhile, recently announced a $10 million investment in the Closed Loop Fund for improving recycling infrastructure and developing end markets for recycled material.

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