In another attempt to determine how much of all types of plastics are being recycled in North America, one of the industry's leading trade groups has put together its first report that looks at the extent of rigid nonbottle recycling.
The report estimates that 325.4 million pounds of post-consumer rigid plastics were recycled in 2007. However, two-thirds of that material was exported, mostly to China, leaving only 121.4 million pounds for the U.S. and Canada, according to the report, which was released Feb. 24 by the American Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va.
In order for this market to develop, domestic users will require a consistent supply of clean, single-resin material, typically in excess of 400 million pounds, one section of the report said. The recent drop in demand has highlighted the need to expand domestic markets for nonbottle rigid plastics.
The new report follows the plastic film recycling report, now in its second year, and the industry's long-standing reports on PET recycling and all-bottle recycling.
The latest report does not attempt to estimate a recycling rate, because rigid nonbottles include such a broad mix of plastic containers and products, including high density polyethylene tubs, polypropylene cups, plastic hangers, battery cases, crates, pallets, carts and bottle caps.
Collection was growing until the market collapsed last fall, said Patty Moore, president of Moore Recycling Associates Inc. in Sonoma, Calif. Moore participated in a discussion of the results at the Plastics Recycling Conference, held Feb 24-25 in Orlando. Her firm conducted the research for the report.
Roughly 75 percent of nonbottle rigid plastics are collected as part of bales and the remainder are collected or sorted separately.
The report said 44 percent of the material collected was HDPE, 38 percent PP, 2 percent PET and 2 percent polystyrene. The rest was classified as other. About 55 percent of the material collected comprised durable goods such as pallets, crates, 5-gallon buckets, carts and electronic housings.
The report also listed some problems that recyclers face with those materials, including the rather random nature of the current collection and processing infrastructure in the U.S. [that] has proven to be an obstacle to consistent supply of quality bales.
Moore said it's up to the industry to express to the public what aids recycling efforts: We need clear and consistent education to consumers about what to put into curbside recycling.
Of all the rigid nonbottle items collected, Moore said the most valuable are bulky plastics large injection molded items such as buckets, crates, tubs, toys, storage bins and lawn furniture, which typically made of PP and PE.
The second-most valued category is electronics housings, which are made of primarily polycarbonate, high-impact PS and ABS.
The report estimated the current domestic capacity for use of mixed plastic and commingled bottles and containers at 70 million pounds per year.
The largest end markets are lumber, railroad ties, garden products and transport packaging. It said the market for large nonfood PE and PP items was well in excess of 240 million pounds of domestic capacity.
According to the report, 28 of the 100 largest U.S. cities collect nonbottle rigid plastics, with most located on the West Coast.
The information was based on data supplied by 31 post-consumer plastic recyclers, end-users and exporters, as well as surveys sent to 81 materials-recovery facilities in California.