The recycling rate for plastic bottles held steady at 21 percent in 2003, with a rise in the high density polyethylene recycling rate masking a decline in the rate for PET bottles, according to a new report from the American Plastics Council.
The report shows a continuation of the same trends that have dogged the bottle recycling market: While overall recycling volume remained stable, the rate is not gaining any ground, and in the largest market, for PET bottles, it slid back a little bit, APC said.
APC's report said consumers appreciate recycling but are increasingly apathetic, and it blamed the growth of on-the-go packaging such as 20-ounce soft drink containers and the use of more plastic, particularly PET, in containers that typically are not recycled but could be, such as edible oil and ketchup bottles.
``These personal habits contribute to the relatively steady rate of recovery, but hinder the real growth required to maintain a healthy plastics recycling industry,'' said Arlington, Va.-based APC.
An environmental group involved with beverage container recycling, however, said APC's analysis puts too much emphasis on personal habits, and it criticized the report for not discussing government policies that could boost plastic recycling, such as bottle bills.
Consumers need to be given financial incentives to recycle, and they need more convenient opportunities for recycling away from home, said Jennifer Gitlitz, a senior research associate with the Container Recycling Institute, also in Arlington.
Bottle bills create a much higher recycling rate than the programs that APC touts because they offer financial incentives to people, she said. APC opposes bottle bills, arguing that they are costly and that its beverage industry customers also oppose them.
Gitlitz said containers covered under the deposit law in Massachusetts are recycled at a rate of 69 percent. And California saw its container recycling rate jump to 42 percent in the first six months of 2004, from 33 percent in the last six months of 2003, after it increased the refund value of containers, she said.
``We think that just throwing corporate [public relations] money at education will not solve the problem,'' she said.
CRI said the APC report shows that 6.28 billion pounds of plastic bottles were thrown in landfills in 2003, an increase of 252 million from 2002.
APC, on the other hand, said the volume of plastic recycled hit a high of 1.67 billion pounds, up 64 million pounds from 2002. It said the increase was helped by New York City's return to plastic bottle recycling, a big jump in collection in California and the impact of several ongoing consumer and community education programs.
The HDPE recycling rate went from 24.2 percent in 2002 to 24.8 percent in 2003, with most of that increase coming from more collection of pigmented bottles.
For PET, the rate declined, from 19.8 percent in 2002 to 19.5 percent in 2003. The rate for PET soft drink bottles fell nearly a percentage point, to 30.2 percent in 2003, while PET custom containers such as ketchup bottles rose by about the same amount, to 12.1 percent.
To perhaps no one's surprise, export markets continued to be strong, with about 320 million pounds of the 840 million pounds of PET collected going overseas, mainly to China. For HDPE, about 100 million pounds of the 820 million pounds collected went to foreign markets.
Those two resins account for the vast majority of plastic bottles, about 95 percent of the market. Vinyl, low density PE and polypropylene were recycled at 0.2 percent, 0.5 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively.