Even during an economic downturn, the amount of post-consumer non-bottle rigid plastics recycled in 2009 increased by 32.8 percent, spurred by initiatives by recycling associations that have led more communities to recycle those materials.
That increase to 479.2 million pounds compared to roughly 360.8 million in 2008 represents a level that is nearly 47.3 percent higher than what was collected in 2007 when the American Chemistry Council issued its first report on non-bottle rigid plastics recycling.
A growing number of reclaimers have begun processing non-bottle high density polyethylene and polypropylene containers to produce resin for new end products, and the number of communities collecting mixed rigid plastics has grown in response to demand, ACC said in the Feb. 16 report.
ACC also pointed out that the increase is due in part to better data. The Washington-based trade group noted that it had data from 60 companies this year, compared to 45 a year ago.
The increased volume of material did not translate into that much more material for U.S. and Canadian recyclers, because of the large amount that was exported. Recyclers only had access to 19.5 million more pounds of non-bottle rigid plastics material in 2009 than they did in 2008 because 49 percent of the material collected was exported.
We are pleased in the growth in collection of materials and the growth in the amount reclaimed in North America, said Dave Cornell, technical director of the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers. More material is being collected for recycling and that is good. More stayed in North America in 2009 than in 2008 and that is great.
Similar to 2008, 34 percent of the material collected was HDPE, 27 percent was PP and 26 percent was mixed plastic.
Not everyone surveyed specified whether the rigid materials they collected were durable or non-durable goods or what that breakdown was.
But, based on those that did specify, two-thirds of the material was from durable goods such as pallets, crates, carts, 5-gallon buckets and electronic housings; and the rest from non-durable goods such as HDPE tubs, PP cups and similar food containers.
Household containers accounted for almost half over 48 percent of the non-bottle rigid plastics collected. Bulky rigid plastics things such as carts, crates, buckets, baskets, toys and lawn furniture represented another 19 percent.
Electronics and computer scrap accounted for 4 percent of the material collected in 2009 compared to 6 percent in 2008.
ACC did not provide a number on how many more communities were recycling non-bottle rigid plastics in 2009, but said that it had commissioned a study which it expects to release early this year to determine the percentage of the U.S. population with access to recycling different types of plastic.
However, the new ACC report did say that 63 percent of households in California now had access to non-bottle rigid plastics recycling programs and noted that New York City, Philadelphia and more than 60 communities in Connecticut have announced plans to expand their recycling programs to include rigid containers.
In its report on the amount of non-bottle rigid plastics collected in 2008, ACC said that recycling of non-bottle rigid plastics was confined largely to the West Coast and that only 28 of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. collected non-bottle rigid plastics, most of those being along the West Coast. The report also said that only 16 of those 28 cities collect rigid plastics beyond containers.
The new, 2009 report estimated the total North American capacity for processing non-bottle rigid plastics at 627 million pounds annually or about 100 million higher than in 2008.
About one-third of that capacity is to make lumber, railroad ties and thick-walled injection molded products such as garden pots or crates and pallets used for transport packaging. A year ago, those products accounted for 50 percent of the end-use products from non-bottle rigid plastics.
Overseas bale issues
But even with that increase, quality issues and the ease of exporting bales overseas continue to be obstacles that prevent companies from boosting that processing capacity even further, said the report.
Quality standards are weak at best. If the issue of quality is not addressed, it will obstruct progress in developing non-bottle plastic reclamation, the report said.
The report said there are two key challenges and barriers to increasing domestic processing: the ability of material recovery facilities to export low-quality mixed resin bales to China, and the ability to collect enough quality material because of the lack of bale definitions and specifications for different types of mixed plastic bales.
That's an issue being tackled by the rigid-plastic recycling program of the APR in Washington, which has identified seven different types of mixed bales. The program is in the process of developing bale specifications that both communities and material recovery facilities can use, based on their needs.
ACC did not attempt to calculate a recycling rate because rigid non-bottles include a broad mix of plastic containers and products such as HDPE tubs, PP cups, hangers, electronic housings, car bumpers, crates, pallets, carts and bottle caps.
The report was based on data supplied by 25 post-consumer plastics recyclers and end users and 35 exporters. That compares to a year ago when the report was based on data from 19 processors/end users and just 25 exporters. It was conducted by Moore Recycling Associates Inc. in Sonoma, Calif.