The plastic bottle recycling rate increased slightly last year, pushed by rising prices for recycled material and government action like New York City restarting plastic recycling and California increasing the amount of its container deposits, according to a report from the American Plastics Council.
Arlington, Va.-based APC said the overall recycling rate for plastic bottles rose to 22.6 percent in 2004, up from 21 percent in 2003. Both of the major container materials, PET and high density polyethylene, saw increases, and APC pointed to a record increase in the amount of pounds of plastic collected for recycling.
``It's the largest single amount of recycled pounds jump since we started collecting data,'' said Pete Dinger, senior director of technology for APC. It's also the largest jump in the recycling rate since 1995, but it comes after a decade of falling or flat rates.
In its Nov. 21 report, APC said more than 1.9 billion pounds were collected, a 247 million-pound increase from 2003.
Others who study bottle recycling said the same data could show a lack of progress in recycling. The amount of plastic thrown out in 2004 increased by 291 million pounds, also a record, as the amount of plastic used in bottles continued to grow, according to the Container Recycling Institute, a Washington-based environmental organization.
``We've got record sales and the bottom line is we've got record wasting, a record number of pounds of plastic bottles that didn't get recycled,'' said Pat Franklin, executive director of CRI.
The APC report showed rises in both the PET and HDPE rate, with the overall PET bottle rate rising from 19.5 in 2003 to 21.6 percent in 2004, and PET soda bottles rising from 30.2 percent to 33.7 percent.
The overall recycling rate for HDPE bottles rose more than one percentage point, to 25.9 percent.
APC pointed to five factors: New York's return to plastic bottle recycling; an increase in the California container deposit; increased recycled plastic bale value; more communities using single-stream curbside recycling, which typically means increased recycling; and ongoing consumer education programs.
On the other side of the coin, Dinger said there is still a shortage of recycled material. Recyclers desperately need more material, and end markets like fiber, bottles, strapping and plastic lumber easily could use more material, he said.
The APC report showed that capacity utilization increased as well. Utilization among PET recyclers increased to 67 percent, from 59 percent. Among HDPE recyclers, it rose more modestly, to 70 percent from 68 percent.
``It's the frustration of the industry,'' Dinger said. ``We want the materials, we have the resources and the markets to do it. It all comes back to the consumer.''
CRI, however, argued that it's not the consumer as much as it is recycling policy, and contended that container deposits could increase recycling much more quickly, since they typically produce recycling rates of 80 percent.
APC and industry groups oppose them, but CRI said deposits account for a significant amount of increased collection. About 30 percent of the country's increase in PET collection in 2004 came from California, where deposit values rose in 2004, according to CRI.
Neither Dinger nor Franklin said they could predict if recycling rates will increase next year, although Dinger said that the amount collected could increase again, given the continued demand and pricing in recycling.