Mixed results: Film recycling volume increases, non-bottle rigids dip

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Moore Recycling Associates Inc. Clear polyethylene film accounted for just over half the plastics film recovered in 2015, according to the report.

Updated — Despite some challenging conditions facing the plastics recycling market, film recovery continues to increase, according to new information from the American Chemistry Council.

The trade group takes a look at plastic film recycling each year, and is reporting a 3-percent jump, or 34 million pounds, in 2015 compared with the year before.

Nearly 1.2 billion pounds of bags, wraps and other film packaging was recycled in 2015, according to statistics released March 7 by ACC.

Michael A. Marcotte The American Chemistry Council's Steve Russell, seen here at NPE 2015.

For Steve Russell, vice president of plastics at ACC, the increase can be summed up in three words.

“Access, demand and awareness. Those are the three critical pieces and they all happen to exist for film,” he said.

There’s more access to film recycling options than ever before, and demand for the recycled material continues along with a growing awareness by consumers that film can be recycled just like their other plastics.

“I think, first of all, we’re seeing not just an increase, but a continual increase year over year. We believe a good part of that is due to rapidly growing consumer awareness and the success of programs like the WRAP program,” Russell said. “Awareness is helped along by the SPC (Sustainable Packaging Coalition How2Recycle) label and more and more brand owners focusing on communicating the parts of their products and packages that can be recycled.”

WRAP stands for Wrap Recycling Action Program and is an effort to build awareness in plastic film recycling.

“The access to film as a separate stream through retail recovery and point-of-sale collection rather than curbside has made a huge, positive difference, for the recyclers, too, and continued markets for the material,” Russell said. “Relative to some other products, film is in a pretty good spot.”

Shari Jackson is director of film recycling at ACC and sees close-up the impact of the WRAP program, which she said brought together the “whole PE value chain to come up with solutions to make it easier to recover this material. We saw as a major barrier a lack of awareness around what’s recycled and how to recycle it.”

And while film enjoyed a year of growth, that was not the case for another plastics recycling sector that ACC tracks.

Non-bottle rigids — think tubs and lids, cups and buckets, drums and crates — fell by almost 4 percent, or 45 million pounds, to 1.24 billion pounds in 2015, the trade group reported.

ACC cited what the group calls “challenging market conditions for commodities in general, increased competition from virgin plastic materials, and weakened demand in Asia” as factors for the dip in non-bottle rigid recycling.

“It’s a challenging economy for commodity resins and the current economic situation makes it harder for recycled resin to compete as well,” Russell said.

“As you know, there’s been some shakeout in the recycling industry. There’s been some closures, but also growth.”

“I suspect this was just a year of realignment where for this moment in time, the challenging commodity prices had a bit of an effect. Now on the other side, we are seeing firms investing in various aspects of recycling,” Russell said.

The full reports are available here:

2015 National Post-consumer Plastic Bag & Film Recycling Report.

2015 National Post-Consumer Non-Bottle Rigid Plastic Recycling Report.