Post-consumer plastic bottle recycling hit another milestone last year in the United States, and in the process continued a growth trend that now reaches back for a quarter century.
New statistics from the Association of Plastic Recyclers and the American Chemistry Council show that bottle recycling increased by 97 million pounds to top 3 billion pounds for the first time in 2014. The overall plastic bottle recycling rate inched up 1 percent to 31.8 percent.
The year-over-year increase of 97 million pounds to 3.003 billion pounds represents a 3.3 percent increase from 2013's total of 2.906 billion pounds.
PET and high density polyethylene were the big boys when it comes to plastic bottle recycling, and that's no surprise. Those categories accounted for 97.2 percent of the plastic bottle recycling market, with polypropylene accounting for another 2.6 percent.
“All trends are positive this year, in a very tough market. We're pleased that we continue to both maintain and see slight growth going forward,” APR Executive Director Steve Alexander said. “We're excited that the record number of bottles were collected last year.”
As managing director of plastics markets for the ACC, Keith Christman pays attention to these kinds of statistics.
The increase, he said, can be attributed to a couple of different factors.
“I think this reflects single-stream recycling, the success of that in getting more people to participate in recycling,” he said.
Single-stream allows citizen recyclers to mingle all of their recyclables in one cart instead of having to worry about separating out the items prior to collection. This easier approach has proven to increase household participation and volumes.
Movement of recycling programs to start accepting all types of plastic bottles also has helped push the numbers higher, Christman said.
“We know that from studies that have been done over the years. Having more communities recognize the need to collect all plastic bottles makes it easier for people and increases plastic bottle recycling,” he said.
While overall tonnage is up, the year-over-year increase slowed from 2013 to 2014 in terms of actually pounds collected.
Numbers released last year for 2013 showed that post-consumer plastic bottle collection increased by 120 million pounds. The increase was 161 million pounds in 2012.
“One factor playing an important part there is light weighting of bottles that we see continuing,” Christman said.
As bottles get lighter, recyclers have to collect more to keep pace. “It makes it harder to have dramatic increases in the pounds of recycling if the amount of material going on to the marketplace is growing more slowly,” he said.
Also impacting the overall size of the post-consumer plastic bottle market is the fact that some products are switching to smaller bottles thanks to the use of concentrated formulas.
While overall bottle collection increased by 97 million pounds, according to the report, the total weight of all bottles in the market only increased by 19 million pounds from 2013 to 2014. This 0.2 percent growth rate is below a three-year average growth rate of 1.2 percent. PET bottle sales increased in 2014 while HDPE bottle sales “held nearly steady,” according to the report.
While PP bottle recycling remains small compared to HDPE and PET, Alexander pointed to a 28.3 percent collection increase in that category year-over-year. PP bottle recycling reached 79.5 million pounds last year. That represents a collection rate of 44.9 percent, the report conducted by Moore Recycling Associates Inc. indicates.
The latest results mark 25 consecutive years of plastic bottle recycling growth dating back to 1990 when the survey was first conducted, the trade groups said.
“We're excited that the record number of bottles were collected last year,” Alexander said.