Despite a drop in exports that may be blamed on China's National Sword policy, the U.S. PET recycling rate improved slightly in 2017.
The rate hit 29.2 percent in 2017, up from 28.4 percent in 2016, according to a report released Nov. 15 by the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) and the Association of Plastic Recyclers.
"Demand for [recycled] RPET continues to be healthy, and we have capacity and infrastructure to meet those needs," said Tom Busard, NAPCOR chairman, chief procurement officer for Plymouth, Mich.-based Plastipak Packaging Inc. and president of Clean Tech Inc., Plastipak's recycling affiliate.
"However, we have more work to do to improve the quality and volume of PET that goes to our reclaimers," Busard said.
Domestic recyclers and exporters took in a total of 1.72 billion pounds of post-consumer PET in 2017, which compares to the total volume of PET resin used in bottles of 5.91 billion pounds. Export volumes declined to 16 percent of total collection, the result of China's stricter policy for imports of plastic waste. But the growing U.S. domestic market more than made up for the difference.
"The key to continued growth in the PET recycling industry is increased demand for RPET by end users, and designing bottles for recyclability," said APR President Steve Alexander.
He added: "Despite challenges with increased contamination and demand markets, the RPET industry continues to demonstrate its strength in terms of consistent domestic material purchases and investment in enhanced processing capacity."
U.S. and Canadian plastics processors used 1.57 billion pounds of recycled PET in 2017, an increase of 5 percent from the previous year. Fiber, strapping and thermoformed products/sheet all posted increases, while recycled PET use in bottles dropped.
APR is based in Washington; NAPCOR is headquartered in Florence, Ky. This marks the 13th year that NAPCOR and APR have partnered to produce the PET recycling report, and the 23rd year that it has been issued by NAPCOR in its current format.