The pounds of high density polyethylene bottles recycled in the U.S. increased for the second straight year in 2009, but the HDPE recycling rate stayed virtually flat, increasing by just two-tenths of a percentage point, to 29.2 percent.
The amount of HDPE bottles recycled rose in 2009 by 44.9 million pounds, or 4.8 percent, to 981.6 million. That followed an increase of 16.1 million pounds in 2008. In 2007, the rate was 26 percent.
But the HDPE recycling rate increased three percentage points since 2007 not because more material was collected; rather, the amount of HDPE resin used in bottles in 2009 was roughly 160 million pounds less than that used in 2007 that's despite a 129 million-pound increase in HDPE resin used to make HDPE bottles last year.
The recycling rate is calculated by dividing the number of pounds recycled by the number of pounds of resin, both virgin and recycled, used to make bottles
Bottle resin use grew during the year, but did not recover to pre-recession levels, said the 2009 all-bottle-recycling report released jointly Dec. 1 by the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers and the American Chemistry Council, both of Washington.
The report was the first insight into HDPE recycling numbers for 2009. Data for PET that was included in the report had been previously released Oct. 20, in a report issued jointly by the National Association for PET Container Resources, the PET Resin Association and APR.
Plastic bottle lightweighting continues, the report said. Many HDPE bottle applications are using product concentrates, which means an increasing number of smaller bottles or fewer bottles made for a specific category such as laundry bottles.
That's good for sustainability, but reduces the amount of pounds available to be recycled, the report said.
Recycling is dominated by weight, the report said. The change in total resin used to make bottles [in 2009] was a decrease [of] 85 million pounds the equivalent of a 1 percent drop in bottle production.
The all-bottle report calculated the overall plastic bottle recycling rate for 2009 at 27.8 percent, up from 27 percent a year ago, with HDPE and PET accounting for 98.8 percent of all the bottles recycled, and polypropylene another 1.1 percent.
The total pounds of plastic bottles recycled in 2009 rose by 46 million, or 2 percent, to just under 2.5 billion pounds, the report said. This was largely from the increase in HDPE, PP, PVC and low density PE.
The report credited the increase in LDPE bottles collected from 400,000 up to 1.4 million pounds and the increase in PVC from 400,000 pounds to 2 million pounds to more all-bottle collection programs in municipalities. Specifically, there were 52 municipal program expansions/conversions to single-stream recycling affecting more that 3.7 million households.
The number of PP bottles collected increased by more than 27 percent from 21.2 million pounds to 27 million, largely because of more recyclers separating out PP from bales.
Again, buoyed by the drop in pounds used, the PET recycling rate in 2009 inched up slightly to 28 percent, its highest level since 1997.
However, PET resin used to make bottles declined by 4 percent, or 217 million pounds, in 2009 on top of a drop of 5.6 percent, or 317 million pounds, in 2008. That dropped the amount of resin used to 5.149 billion pounds, the lowest level since 2005 when 5.075 billion pounds of PET were used to make PET containers and bottles.
In pounds, the amount of PET bottles recycled remained essentially flat at 1.444 billion pounds. That's down slightly from 2008, when 1.451 billion pounds were recycled and only slightly higher than the 1.396 billion pounds of PET bottles and containers recycled in 2007.
It is vital for the growth of plastic bottle recycling that consumers place bottles in the proper pathways for recycling to happen, the report said. Too many consumers continue to be unaware of the significant usefulness, demand and value of recycled plastic HDPE and PET.
Municipalities also need to understand that they, too, can benefit from the prices being paid for bales of bottles, the report added.
The other barrier to increased plastic bottle recycling, according to the report, is a lack of sufficient access to recycling collection opportunities for product used away from home. Consumer data continue to show that the public wants additional opportunities to be able to recycle at public venues, offices, recreational sites, schools and retail establishments.
Unlike in 2008 when HDPE reclaimers nearly tripled the amount of material they imported from 54 million to 141 million pounds to have enough material to process, they needed to import only 40 million pounds in 2009.
HDPE recycled-resin exports increased to 234 million pounds in 2009 representing 23.8 percent of all HDPE bottles collected and recycled. That's up from 214 million pounds for the past two consecutive years.
By contrast, about 725.7 million pounds or 55.6 percent of all PET bottles and containers recycled in 2009 were exported, almost all of it to China. That's the fourth straight year that China has acquired more than half of the PET bottles collected in the United States.
Overall HDPE recycling capacity decreased slightly to 1.017 billion pounds in 2009 and the total utilized capacity in 2009 that is, the amount of HDPE resins processed in the U.S. fell nearly 10 percent to 788 million pounds from 864 million the year before.
The highest end-market use for recycled HDPE continued to be non-food bottles at 45 percent up slightly from the 43 percent market share that segment had for the past four years. Pipe was the second-largest end-use category, accounting for 25 percent, up from 17 percent last year and two percentage points higher than in 2007.