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Plastic Bottle Recycling Continues to Climb in the United States


Contact: Steve Alexander (202) 316-3046  
Email: salexander@cmrgroup4.com

Contact: Jennifer Killinger (202) 249-6619
E-mail: jennifer_killinger@americanchemistry.com

Domestic Processing and Import Sales of Post-consumer Plastic Bottles Increase, Export Sales Decline

WASHINGTON, D.C. (October 10, 2012) – Plastic bottle recycling by consumers increased 45 million pounds in 2011, edging up 1.7 percent, to reach over 2.6 billion pounds for the year, according to figures released jointly today by the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC). The recycling rate for plastic bottles held steady, inching up one-tenth of one percent to reach 28.9 percent for the year.

The 22nd annual National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report marks the twenty-second consecutive year that Americans have increased the pounds of plastic bottles returned for recycling. The number of pounds of used bottles collected in the United States has grown each year since the industry survey began in 1990.

Domestic processing of all recycled plastic bottles—including imported materials—rose 89 million pounds over 2010.

“With reduced exports and increased imports of recovered bottles, plastic bottle recycling continues to be an international business with domestic companies competing effectively,” said Steve Alexander, executive director of APR. “Being diligent about recycling your plastic bottles is a simple way to strengthen our domestic plastics recycling industry while doing something good for the planet.”

The report verified that single-stream collection—whereby all recycled materials are placed in a single bin—continues to grow, helping to boost household participation rates.

“Even with increased collection, demand for recycled plastics far outpaces supply,” said Steve Russell, Vice President of Plastics for ACC. “We need everyone to do their part to get more plastics into the bin. The good news is that with so many communities adopting single-stream recycling, it has never been easier to recycle many types of plastics.”

This year’s survey also found that the recycling of PP bottles rose to nearly 44 million pounds, an annual increase of nearly 24 percent, with 64 percent of that material processed domestically as PP, rather than mixed with other resins. Although PP caps are widely collected for recycling in the United States, these data are included in a separate report on recycling non-bottle rigid plastics, which will be released in the coming weeks.

Additionally, the report showed that the pounds of HDPE bottles collected dipped slightly (one percent) in 2011, while the collection rate for HDPE held steady at 29.9 percent. Imports of postconsumer HDPE increased by 106 percent to 51.1 million pounds, which, combined with decreased collection and fallen exports, resulted in slightly higher production in U.S. reclamation plants.

PET and HDPE bottles continue to make up over 96 percent of the U.S. market for plastic bottles. In 2011, interest in lighter weight packaging continued among manufacturers and retailers, resulting in the use of plastics in new bottle applications; however, market growth was largely offset by trends toward smaller bottles (e.g., concentrated detergents), lighter bottles and the sluggish economy. 

The full 2011 report (National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report) is available in the “Reports and Publications” section of ACC’s Website and on APR’s (www.plasticsrecycling.org) Website.

Data on PET recycling referenced in the report were separately funded and published by APR and the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR). A separate report, entitled 2011 Report on Post-Consumer PET Container Recycling Activity, is available on APR’s website.

The survey of reclaimers in the study was conducted by Moore Recycling Associates, Inc.

Resources for municipal recyclers are available at www.recycleyourplastics.org.

Learn more about recycling plastics.

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