The latest plastics recycling report is out, and for a change it looks like pretty good news. But there's a potential problem with the data that we'll get to in a second.
First, the good news. The number of pounds of plastic bottles in the United States continues to grow, topping 2.1 billion pounds. (This data is for 2005, the latest available). But what's more important is the recycling rate: 24.3 percent of plastic bottles were recycled, up from 22.6 percent in 2004.
Here are a few highlights:
- High density polyethylene bottles: 921.9 million pounds recycled, 27.1 percent recycling rate.
- PET bottles: 1.17 billion pounds recycled, 23.1 percent recycling rate.
- Polypropylene bottles: 10.1 million pounds recycled, 5.5 percent recycling rate (up from 6 million pounds, and 3.2 percent rate, in 2004).
There's one really significant caveat in this report: The hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast in 2005 might have inflated the recycling rate.
It's a simple math problem, really. Calculating the recycling rate means dividing the number of pounds of plastic collected and recycled by the volume of virgin resin used to make bottles. In 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita shut down HDPE resin plants and damaged rail lines needed to ship virgin plastic.
"Blow molding companies responded by drawing down inventories and making up domestic resin shortfalls with imported HDPE material," which the report doesn't include. "As a result, the actual pounds used for HPDE bottle production in 2005 may be somewhat higher than reported.... Rather than guess about the quantitative impact of the above events, the data were left as reported by industry sources."
So let the debate begin:
did plastics recycling really gain ground in 2005, or was this a statistical aberration caused by the hurricanes?
The recycling report is conducted by engineering firm R.W. Beck Inc. for the American Chemistry Council's Plastics Division
and the Association of Postconsumer Plastics Recyclers