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US plastic bottle recycling up 6.2 percent in 2012

By: Jim Johnson

November 7, 2013

Plastic bottle recycling increased by more than 6 percent last year even as the amount of resin used to make those bottles remained essentially steady compared to the previous year.

With a jump of 161 million pounds, plastic bottle recycling hit 2.8 billion pounds in 2012 compared with 2011, an increase of 6.2 percent.

That translates into an additional one-half pound of plastic bottle recycling for each of the 317 million people in the country.

“I think the story is no unpleasant surprises,” said David Cornell, who compiled the 23rd Annual National Post-Consumer Plastics Bottle Recycling Report issued by the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers and the American Chemistry Council.

“There are some trends that have changed. I think the biggest trend that we’re seeing is usage per capita. This is virgin and recycled material, so we’re talking about what goes on the store shelf,” Cornell said. “Per person, we are not using more plastic to make plastic bottles. So those who would think we’re being overwhelmed, it’s not in terms of plastic bottles.”

Last year’s increase pushed the plastic bottle recycling up 1.6 percentage points to 30.5 percent for 2012, according to the report.

Word of higher recycling rates comes at a time when American isn’t really using any more plastic, at least when it comes to bottles.

The total amount of plastic for all bottles in the marketplace increased by 0.5 percent, or 45 million pounds, according to the report.

“What that tells us is that the per-capita consumption is sitting basically close to what it was [in 2011],” Cornell said.

When compared with gross national product growth of 2-4 percent in a “good and normal year,” Cornell said, the small growth rate in 2012 stands out.

“So is a half a percent very good when 2, 3, 4 is what you expect? Not particularly,” said Cornell, who runs D.D. Cornell Associates in Kingsport, Tenn., and is a technical consultant to APR.

The stability in the amount of plastic consumed to make bottles from 2009 to 2012, he said, “suggests to me that there’s been some significant changed. Buying patterns may have changed. Packaging patterns have changed.”

Impacts include lightweighting of drink containers and the increasing use of concentrates that allow for smaller packaging for products such as detergents.

Last year also featured a milestone for the recycling of high density polyethylene bottles, which increased by 45.3 million pounds to rise above 1 billion pounds or the first time ever, the groups said.

HDPE, while reaching 1.02 billion pounds last year, still was a distant second to PET, which clocked in at a total of 1.72 billion pounds, up 113.9 million pounds for the year. Even third-place polypropylene bottles jumped 7.2 percent to 47 million pounds for the year.

“In the United States, we have the capacity to recycle more used plastics than we are currently collecting, and innovative manufacturers are using these materials in new and exciting ways. Each of us can help by doing our part to get more used plastics into a recycling bin,” said Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the ACC, in a statement.

The report is available in the plastic section of the products and technology section of the "Reports and Publications" portion of www.americanchemistry.com. Go to "Education and Resources" and then "Reports and Publications."

The information also is available at APR's website: www.plasticsrecycling.org.