NEW ORLEANS — The U.S. and Canada recycled more than 934 million pounds of post-consumer rigid plastics, not including plastic bottles, in 2011, up 13 percent from the previous year, according to a new report.
And the number of people with access to local recycling facilities that are able to process rigid plastics also increased — a jump of 40 percent to 57 percent between 2011 and 2012.
The results of the two studies are directly related: the increase in local access has led to an increase in recycling.
The increase is a step in the right direction, but the U.S. plastics industry still has a long way to go, said Steve Russell, vice president of the plastics department of the American Chemistry Council.
We're not doing "really well enough...the good is, that's changing," he said on March 19 in an interview at the Plastics Recycling Conference in New Orleans.
The reports, "2011 National Postconsumer Non-Bottle Rigid Recycling Report" and "Plastics Recycling Collection: National Reach Study, 2012 Update," were released March 19.
More than 1,400 cities and 300 counties in the United States now collect all rigid plastic containers in addition to plastic bottles — the "all rigids" definition includes bottles, caps, cups, trays, boxes, clamshells, lids and bulky plastics like crates, buckets and lawn furniture, according to the reach report.
At least 94 percent of the U.S. population has access to recycling for PET and high density polyethylene bottle and caps, while just more than 57 percent have access to recycling for all plastic bottles and non-bottle rigid containers, according to the report.
According to the report, the number of U.S. containers with access to recycle two key categories of rigid containers — HDPE rigid cups, tubs and containers and PET trays, clamshells and cups — is now more than 60 percent.
This is significant because, for the first time, those containers can be labeled "recyclable" under the Federal Trade Commission's green guidelines.
Russell said the industry could look at other countries with successful recycling programs for ways to boost recycling here. European countries have been successful in implementing single-stream recycling programs.
Even countries considered to have successful recycling programs are only recycling at a rate of 30 to 35 percent overall, and the very best are recycling at about 50 percent, he added.
The U.S. recycling rate is about 8 to 10 percent, he said, adding that determining exactly how many plastics are recycled be difficult because data includes durable plastics intended to last for decades.
The majority of recovered rigid plastics were olefin materials — high and low density PE and polypropylene — which are valued higher in both domestic and export markets because of their range of uses and ease of processing, according to the rigid recycling report.
The report also noted that recyclers who purchased mixed material did process both the olefin and non-olefin resins.
The majority of reclaimed rigid plastic, 61 percent, is now being recycled in the U.S. or Canada, a big jump from 2007 when one-third of plastic was processed domestically.
The reports, sponsored by Washington-based ACC, were conducted by Moore Recycling Associates Inc. of Sonoma, Calif.