Report: Nearly all Americans have access to PET recycling

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PET bottle, jug and jar recycling is available to more than 9 out of every 10 Americans across the country, according to a new study.

The study, commissioned by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, looked at recycling programs accepting a variety of materials, including PET bottles, jugs and jars.

Conducted by Resource Recycling Systems and Moore Recycling Associates, the study found that 92 percent of the U.S. population has access to such PET recycling, according to the Society for the Plastics Industry Inc., a trade group involved with the study.

“This new study helps us to make a true assessment of the ease and availability of recycling by consumers across the country,” said Dan Mohs, CEO of Placon Corp. “This report also serves as a contextual guide for brands who make claims about their recycling and sustainability efforts.”

Placon, based in Madison, Wis., is a major recycler of PET bottles that are then used by the company to make thermoformed packaging.

For comparison, aluminum beverage can recycling also is available to 92 percent of the population. Availability falls to 81 percent for glass beverage bottles and 55 percent for cartons, according to the research.

Along with SPI, other groups involved in the study included the National Association for PET Container Resources, Plastics Division of the American Chemistry Council, Closed Loop Fund, Foodservice Packaging Institute and Recycling Partnership.

The survey, which looked at various recyclables, reported that recycling is available to 94 percent of the total population, including 73 percent that have access curbside recycling. Another 21 percent only have access to drop-off recycling, and 6 percent do not have access to recycling.

A total of 64 percent of the population actually has access to drop-off recycling, but many of those people also have curbside recycling opportunities, according to the 2015-16 Centralized Study on Availability of Recycling.

Plastic recyclables are commonly mixed with other recyclables and then sorted at material recovery facilities before being shipped off to companies specializing in plastic reprocessing. The survey reports that almost 90 percent of the population with single-family curbside recycling are now covered by this so-called single-stream recycling approach on the front end.

The survey was conducted in late 2015 and early 2016 and involved direct research covering half of the country’s population. For the other half, research on random sample of recycling programs was conducted.

While the research showed the 92-percent figure for PET bottles, jugs and jars, the work also breaks down recycling availability of various materials into three categories: 60 percent of the population or greater, 20 to 60 percent, or less than 20 percent.

This corresponds with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s How2Recycle labeling guidelines, which marks packaging as “widely recycled,” “check locally,” or “not yet recycled” depending on the percentage of recycling availability to the overall population.

Along with PET bottles, jugs and jars, the study showed several plastic packaging categories in the 60 percent or greater category: bottles, jugs and jars made from high density polyethylene, polypropylene, low density PE, linear LDPE and PVC.

Categories including other bottles and jugs, bottle caps, PET cups, PET containers and trays, PET clamshells, PET lids, PP cups, PP tubs and containers, PP clamshells and LDPE/LLDPE tubs all scored in the highest category.

Plastics in the middle range include PP lids, LDPE/LLDPE lids, PVC non-bottle rigids, PVC clamshells, and polystyrene cups, containers, clamshells and lids. Other materials in the middle range are bulky plastics with and without resin codes and plastic buckets of at least 5 gallons.

PS and PP cutlery scored in the lowest category of less than 20 percent along with expanded polystyrene cups, trays and containers, clamshells and protective or transportation packaging. Other materials coming in lowest category of recycling availability were HDPE, LDPE and LLDPE tubes.

For comparison, aluminum beverage can recycling also is available to 92 percent of the population. Availability falls to 81 percent for glass beverage bottles and 55 percent for cartons.