The rate of growth for plastic bag and film recycling has virtually ground to a halt.
An examination of the data released March 16 by the plastics division of the American Chemistry Council found that the rate of growth in plastic bag and film recycling in 2008 was barely more than 0.25 percent. That's even lower than in 2007 when the amount of material collected increased by 2.24 percent.
In absolute numbers, the amount of plastic bag and film recycled in 2008 was 832.4 million pounds, up 2.1 million from 2007. That means that the combined increase the past two years in pounds of plastic bag and film recovered was just 20.4 million, or a combined 2.5 percent.
That's in stark contrast to 2006 when the amount collected jumped from 652.5 million pounds to 812 million pounds, or 24.45 percent.
About 57 percent of the film and bags collected in 2008 were exported, a 2 percentage point increase over 2007 meaning almost twice as much material is exported than is used by manufacturers of composite lumber, which are the biggest users of recycled film and bags in the U.S. Composite lumber manufacturers used 29 percent of the film collected in 2008, compared with 37 percent in 2007.
In 2008, nearly 470 million pounds were exported, up from 462.6 million in 2007, while domestic consumption fell from 367.6 million pounds to just under 362.4 million pounds.
Reflecting the economic conditions of 2008, when the market crashed in the final quarter of the year, the report estimates capacity utilization for U.S. processors of very clean film was only 50 percent, compared with 60 percent in 2007.
But dividing the amount of pounds of material collected in 2008 by the estimated capacity equals a capacity utilization of 45 percent in 2008, 46 percent in 2007 and 73.8 percent in 2006. The figures could be slightly higher in each year, depending on how much material, if any, companies used from inventory, or if there were any temporary plant shutdowns.
The report estimates industry capacity at around 800 million pounds. Film and sheet used 4 percent of the material collected, and markets such as rigid packaging, buoys, artificial mulch, piping, pallets and bins used the other 10 percent of the material collected and recycled.
ACC estimates plastic grocery and retail bags made up about 17 percent of the material collected, up 2 percentage points from 2007. Agricultural film represents 3 percent of the amount collected. The other 80 percent is largely stretch film the plastic wrapping around pallets and used in packaging and poly bags. In 2007, the report said stretch film represented 84 percent of the amount collected, agricultural film just 1 percent and plastic grocery and retail bags 15 percent.
One sector where film and plastic bag recycling increased substantially was curbside, where nearly 33.3 million pounds were collected compared with 21 million pounds in 2007.
The report said that for the second straight year, exporters frequently outbid domestic buyers for baled materials.
Many domestic buyers likely used existing inventory and bought conservatively as manufacturing slowed and economic indicators worsened, said the report. It added that current demand and pricing, though not back at the record levels reached in the summer of 2008, are strong and steady.
ACC said it views the amount of material reported as collected is conservative similar to what the industry claimed when it released its non-bottle rigid plastics recycling report March 3.
Without proving any specific numbers, the report said the number of collection programs continued to grow in 2008. It also speculated that there may have been a decline in the use, and therefore recovery, of transport packaging [pallet wrap] as economic conditions worsened and manufacturing slowed.
Research for the report was conducted by Moore Recycling Associates Inc. of Sonoma, Calif., and based on data from 60 companies that export material and 19 domestic processors or end users of film material.
In 2007, the report was based on data from 45 exporters and 18 domestic processors or end users.
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