The PET bottle recycling rate rose in 2004, going up for the first time in nearly a decade.
The rate rose to 21.6 percent in 2004, up from 19.6 percent the previous year, and the amount of PET bottles collected for recycling jumped dramatically to a little more than 1 billion pounds, according to a Sept. 29 report from the National Association for PET Container Resources.
The Sonoma, Calif.-based trade group pointed to a number of factors for the reversal of fortunes for PET recycling: increased demand, especially in the carpet industry, more pressure from government in California to use recycled plastic in containers and a better competitive position with virgin materials.
``The biggest news is the amount of PET collected jumped significantly, which is a good sign, and it looks like we're going to be able to maintain that,'' said NAPCOR Chairman Gerry Claes. ``The other side of the coin is that demand for PET continues to grow.''
Environmental groups said the increased recycling rate should be put in perspective: It's still well below the PET industry's high-water mark of 39.7 percent in 1995, and it means four of five containers were thrown out, said Jenny Gitlitz, a senior research associate with the Container Recycling Institute in Arlington, Va.
NAPCOR's numbers show that 160 million more pounds of PET was recycled in 2004, but conversely, the growth of PET packaging to 4.6 billion pounds meant that 183 million more pounds of PET bottles were thrown away last year.
``Is that progress?'' Gitlitz asked.
NAPCOR reported that a record level of PET was collected - 1.003 billion pounds, or 19 percent more than 2003, which was also a record. That's a much faster rise than the 8 percent growth in general PET use in the bottle market, the first time that's happened since at least 1995.
Except for last year, the PET recycling industry had been dogged by a familiar story. The use of PET packaging soared in things like 20-ounce soft drink bottles, water bottles and specialty containers, but recycling remained flat or declined.
NAPCOR pointed to several factors in the growth in collection last year:
* New York returning to collecting plastic in its city recycling programs.
* Materials-recovery facilities installing better equipment to sort plastic bottles.
* California increasing the value of its container deposits.
* Other factors like growth in PET, previously unreported export volumes sold domestically and new commercial volumes from increased scrap sales.
NAPCOR's Claes said California and New York City were the biggest reasons why more PET was collected.
CRI's Gitlitz said her group is ``pleased that NAPCOR has acknowledged the additional PET recycling'' that came from California increasing its container deposits. CRI supports bottle bills.
Industry groups like NAPCOR traditionally oppose bottle bills. Gitlitz said CRI calculations show 30 percent of the increase in PET collected in 2004 in the United States came from California.
As in previous years, the report showed strong growth in exports, with Chinese and Canadian companies buying more. The report also showed record levels of recycled PET flowing into the United States, with Mexico being the largest supplier, replacing Canada.