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North American Plastic Recycling Rates Highlight Need for Investment in Collection and Infrastructure

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Matthew Kastner
Kara Pochiro
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WASHINGTON (June 18, 2001) – North American recyclers continue to recycle the majority of the post-consumer plastic recovered for recycling. Recycling of plastics in North America has risen approximately 8% since 2017. However, the recycling industry faces ongoing challenges, according to a 2019 survey sponsored by the Association of Plastics Recyclers (APR), the Foundation for Plastic Recycling, and the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

The 2019 U.S. Post-Consumer Recycling Data Report released today marks the first year the major plastic categories have been reported together in one report. A dashboard of data and digital access to the full data report are now available. These are some of the developments toward more comprehensive reporting on the state of plastic recycling.

Most of the material recovered for recycling in the United States in 2019 was purchased by reclaimers in the United States or Canada (87.9% combined) with just 12.1% exported overseas. Within the 12.1% of exports, bottle exports rose slightly by 26 million pounds; non-bottle rigid exports stayed flat; and post-consumer film exports dipped by 28.5 million pounds.

The 2019 U.S. Post-Consumer Plastic Recycling Data Report, based on surveys by Stina Inc. and NAPCOR, presents the findings of the major plastic categories recovered for recycling, by destination, with changes over time. In 2019, a total of 5,094 million pounds of post-consumer plastic sourced in the United States was recovered for recycling. Post-consumer plastics in the study included bottles, non-bottle rigid plastics, film, and other plastic but not foam.

In aggregate, recycling of bottles, non-bottle rigid plastic and film declined by 27 million pounds in 2019 or 0.5%. Compared to 2018, the largest increase in recycling in 2019 was among non-bottle rigid plastics (45.9 million pounds) and the largest drop in recycling was in PET bottles (39.3 million pounds). Although film plastic overall declined, there was an increase in film recovered for recycling from retail and agricultural sources. Plastic bottles continued to make up the majority of the plastic recovered for recycling at 55.2%, with non-bottle rigids accounting for 25.3%, film 19.2%, and other plastic, excluding foam, making up the remainder at 0.3%.

“Flat or declining recycling rates are a sign that the system needs support. Declines in mature recycling streams, such as PET and HDPE bottles, make brand company commitments to increased recycled content even more challenging. There are many opportunities to support continued growth in film and non-bottle rigid recycling as well as turn the course for bottles by focusing on what recyclers need to succeed as they are the engines of the circular economy,” said Steve Alexander, APR’s president and CEO. “Our modes of commerce and consumption are changing and our system of recovering resources must change too. Collection of quality material is essential for recyclers to produce quality feedstock at lower environmental and economic costs.”

“Companies across the plastics value chain are deeply committed to transitioning to a circular economy, and we’re pleased to see innovations and investments in everything from designing for recycling to modernizing our plastics recycling infrastructure,” said Joshua Baca, ACC’s vice president of plastics. “We look forward to working with policymakers, our business partners and other stakeholders to accelerate the shift toward circularity.”

Click here for access to the data dashboard and the full data report.

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The Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) is The Voice of Plastics Recycling®. As the international trade association representing the plastics recycling industry, membership includes independent recycling companies of all sizes, processing numerous resins, as well as consumer product companies, equipment manufacturers, testing laboratories, organizations, and others committed to the success of plastics recycling. APR advocates the recycling of all plastics. Visit http://www.PlasticsRecyling.org for more information.

The Foundation for Plastic Recycling works to enhance and expand plastics recycling through education, research, technical assistance, and innovation to address the role of plastics in the Circular Economy. The Foundation for Plastic Recycling is unique for its commitment to enhancing and expanding plastics recycling efforts in order to garner economic and environmental benefits.  To learn more about the Foundation, visit www.PlastisRecycling.org\the-foundation-for-plastic-recycling.

American Chemistry Council

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) represents the leading companies engaged in the business of chemistry. ACC members apply the science of chemistry to make innovative products and services that make people's lives better, healthier and safer. ACC is committed to improved environmental, health and safety performance through Responsible Care®; common sense advocacy designed to address major public policy issues; and health and environmental research and product testing. The business of chemistry is a $486 billion enterprise and a key element of the nation's economy. It is among the largest exporters in the nation, accounting for ten percent of all U.S. goods exports. Chemistry companies are among the largest investors in research and development. Safety and security have always been primary concerns of ACC members, and they have intensified their efforts, working closely with government agencies to improve security and to defend against any threat to the nation’s critical infrastructure.

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