Post-consumer plastic bottle recycling dipped slightly in 2015 — the first drop in 25 years — at a time described as being difficult for the industry.
A new report from a pair of trade groups, the Association of Plastic Recyclers and the American Chemistry Council, shows the overall recycling rate fell to 31.1 percent last year, down from 31.7 percent in 2014.
And the actual total weight of post-consumer bottles collected for recycling dropped by 0.5 percent to 2.977 billion pounds.
“The post-consumer plastic bottle recycling industry experienced a difficult year in 2015 with lower bale prices and lower competing virgin polymer prices for reclaimers. Margins were tight both for bale sellers and for plastic bottle reclaimers,” according to the report released Nov. 2.
The trade associations characterized post-consumer bottle recycling as holding “nearly steady” and staying “flat” year over year.
“The story here is the drop in collections as well as the increase in contamination. Demand remains strong for recycled resin, so we need to continue to focus on collecting more good material to be available for recyclers to process,” said Steve Alexander, APR executive director, in an email interview.
“We do not believe it is a trend, but certainly calls attention to efforts to boost collection, which in turn will boost supply,” he said.
PET bottles represent the largest segment of the overall category, with 1.797 billion pounds processed in 2015, a decrease from 1.812 billion pounds in 2014. High density polyethylene bottles, both natural and pigmented, totaled 1.144 billion pounds in 2015, down from 1.149 billion pounds in 2014, the groups reported.
Polypropylene bottles, a small but growing segment of the post-consumer plastic bottle recycling market, saw an increase to 31.8 million pounds in 2015. That's up from 26.6 million pounds the year before.
The total number of pounds recycled was 2.977 last year, down from 2.991 in 2014, a 14-million-pound drop, according to the report.
Keith Christman, ACC's managing director of plastics markets, called the decrease insignificant. “That's why we thought it was important to say it's basically flat,” he said.
“A lot of this has to do with how much is collected for recycling and makes it to a processor. Continuing a strong participation rate is an important part of it, people continuing to recycle their material, get them to the bin and make them available for our continued strong and growing domestic recycling industry for plastic bottles,” Christman said.
He also pointed to a longer-term trend of increased plastic bottle recycling while discussing the latest numbers.
“Plastic bottle recycling continues to grow over the long-term trend. The other thing you see in this report is strong domestic end use of plastic bottles. Less is getting exported over time compared to previous years and that's good for the industry,” Christman said.
He pointed to work being done by ACC in conjunction with the Recycling Partnership and Keep America Beautiful as ways to keep recycling message in front of consumers.
“In our view, the longer term trend of plastics recycling has been strong. And we think it will continue to be strong,” Christman said.
The report, available from the ACC, is based is based on a survey of plastic reclaimers conducted by Moore Recycling Associates Inc.