SONOMA, CALIF. (Oct. 12, 12 p.m. ET) — After staying flat for two years, the volume of PET bottles recycled in the United States increased by 113 million pounds in 2010, pushing the recycling rate close to 30 percent for the first time since 1996.
The 2010 rate of 29.1 percent is up from a low of 19.6 percent in 2003, and is only 2.6 percentage points lower than the 31.7 percent rate in 1996.
It also marks the seventh straight year that the PET recycling rate has risen, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources in Sonoma, Calif., which released its post-consumer PET container recycling report Oct. 12.
The plastic recycling industry's all-bottle recycling rate report — which includes numbers for high density polyethylene bottles and containers, the second most recycled plastic — is expected to be released by the Washington-based Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers at its fall meeting in Charlotte this week.
NAPCOR said the total volume of PET bottles recycled increased from 1.444 billion pounds in 2009 to 1.557 billion pounds in 2010, with expanded bottle deposit programs in Oregon, Connecticut and New York accounting for almost half of the increase.
“If we hadn't had the expansions in those three bottle deposit states, reclaimers would have had a rough time,” said Mike Schedler, technical director for NAPCOR.
NAPCOR said PET recycling also got a boost from higher sales, as the PET bottle market, in units, recovered to 2008 levels.
“The negative growth in PET bottles and jars sold in the U.S. ended [in 2010] with a rebound more robust than many anticipated,” according to the NAPCOR report. “All beverage categories posted positive growth with juice, juice drinks, and ready-to-drink tea leading the way with double-digit increases. Carbonated beverages also saw growth before tailing off during the last two months of the year.”
The amount of PET collected and recycled in 2010 exceeded the annual nameplate PET recycling capacity in the United States — an estimated 1.465 billion pounds at the end of 2010. But there's still a wide gap between nameplate capacity and available material, as slightly more than 50 percent of the PET collected was exported, leaving U.S. reclaimers with an available domestic supply of just 776 million pounds.
And that supply shortage is likely to get even more pronounced moving into 2011, as both Custom Polymers PET LLC in Athens, Ala., and CarbonLite Industries LLC in Riverside, Calif., added 100 million pound PET wash lines in the past five months.
What's more, CarbonLite plans to add a second 100 million pound-per-year line in either 2012 or 2013, and it is likely that Clear Path Recycling LLC will move forward sooner than later with its second 120 million pound PET wash line in Fayetteville, N.C., that was originally scheduled to come on stream this year.
“We are going to have more reclamation capacity than [pounds of] bottles collected” in 2011, Schedler said.
But that is not deterring investments in PET reclamation capacity.
“While forecasts of domestic capacity being in equilibrium with total PET collection by the end of 2010 fell short, additional investments continued to be made and announced,” said the NAPCOR report.
“The primary driver of these investments is the short supply of RPET [recycled PET] flake and pellets,” NAPCOR said.
“This has prompted end users that anticipate a long-term need for RPET supply to either quietly back new merchant reclaimers, or to do it themselves on the premise that they have a better chance of procuring and processing bales than they do chasing supply of merchant flake.”
And while purchases of recycled PET by China have stayed virtually the same, the new domestic capacity is creating a new dynamic in the PET bale market, NAPCOR said.
“Where Chinese buyers drove prices on the West Coast, domestic buyers were the price setters on the East Coast”—triggered by the need to procure material for the substantial new investments companies made in both new and existing plants, said the NAPCOR report.
“Wellman, NURCC and Clear Path took material away that had in the past been bought by China,” Schedler said. “They will continue to be aggressive.”
What's more, he believes that the CarbonLite plant in California — which began producing its initial recycled PET this month—will affect West Coast PET sales.
“I think what you are beginning to see is that we [the United States] can compete with China more favorably” in purchasing PET bales because of the new plants and the growing demand for recycled PET, Schedler said.
The continued expansions in capacity, despite the supply shortage of recycled PET, reflect the increasing use and demand for recycled PET, said the NAPCOR report.
Indeed, in 2010, the amount of recycled PET used in manufacturing increased by 7 percent and broke the 1-billion pound level for the first time, at 1.002 billion pounds. That's nearly 43 percent more recycled PET than was used in manufacturing in 2001.
Fiber applications still remain the highest user of recycled PET, accounting for 38 percent of demand. But there has been significant growth in the past two years in the sheet market for packaging, and in food and beverage bottles.
Some 216 million pounds of recycled PET was used in food and beverage bottles in 2010, up from 141 million pounds in 2008. Demand from film and sheet applications more than doubled between 2006-2008 to 153 million pounds, and it now stands at 195 million pounds.
“This overhanging demand has created a dynamic that is both interesting and troubling,” the report said. “NAPCOR calculates that in order to meet RPET demand from publicly announced brand owner recycled content commitments — as well as current and projected demand from all other RPET applications — the PET bottle recycling rate would need to be at least 48 percent by 2013.”
“Up to this point,” the report continued, “the primary concerns of this industry — collection, design for recycling principles, and the use of recycled content — have been addressed voluntarily and inconsistently. The question is whether that sort of approach can support the current infrastructure and allow for the growth that will be necessary to make this a sustainable industry.”
This is the sixth year that NAPCOR, APR and the New York-based PET Resin Association have partnered to produce the annual PET recycling report.
Data for the report came from data generated internally at NAPCOR, PETRA and the International Bottled Water Association, as well as from surveys conducted by HDR Inc. and Moore Recycling Associates.