A recent New York Times op-ed (“The Reign of Recycling,” Oct. 3), spotlights current challenges with recycling in the United States. Unfortunately, this piece misses the mark when it comes to plastics.
We've made significant progress in recycling plastics in recent years, due largely to growing awareness of the environmental and economic benefits that plastics recycling can deliver.
Recycling plastics helps to reduce waste, conserve energy, and cut greenhouse gas emissions. A 2010 study found that recycling HDPE and PET plastics can save enough energy each year to power 750,000 homes, and recycling HDPE alone reduces greenhouse gas emissions 66 percent compared to using virgin HDPE.
But that's just part of the story.
One of the reasons plastics are used so often to begin with is that plastic products and packages help to dramatically reduce our environmental footprint during use, and those benefits can be enhanced when we recycle plastics. A 2014 study found that replacing plastic packaging with alternatives would increase global warming potential 130 percent, energy use 80 percent, and waste generation by 55 million tons. Add to that a track record of improving the recycling of plastic film 74 percent since 2005 and tripling recycling of rigid containers since just 2007, and it becomes apparent that plastics' use and recycling can contribute to solving some of today's greatest environmental challenges.
Recycled plastics have economic value too.
While the economics for all commodities vacillate, contrary to the op-ed, market demand for many recycled plastics (e.g., rigid HDPE, clean PE film, PP and PET) is often stronger than it is for recycled fiber (i.e., paper).
According to RecyclingMarkets.net, the average prices for recovered plastics as of June 2, were: HDPE natural plastic (milk jugs) 32 cents per pound, PET (beverage bottles) 14 cents per pound, and PP (deli and dairy tubs and lids) 14 cents per pound. During the same period, prices of mixed paper, newspaper, and old corrugated containers (cardboard) ranged from 2 to 4 cents per pound.
And demand for recycled plastics will likely continue as many retailers and brand owners have committed to incorporating more recycled plastics into their products and packages to meet their annual sustainability goals.
Recycling is a commodity, and all commodities fluctuate. Over the years, plastics have helped reduce energy use and conserve resources-and after plastics are used and reused to the extent possible, these efficient products and packages are increasingly valued as recycled materials.
We're confident that plastics recycling will continue to grow, and we will continue to generate the data to document and promote that growth.
American Chemistry Council Plastics Division