PET recycling volumes during different parts of 2020 show that while people were limited in their recycling abilities at certain points during the year, many did stockpile their PET until they were able to recycle the material.
"It's just an indicator that people are trying to do the right thing," he said.
Demand for recycled PET continues to be strong and unabated, as brand owners have publicly committed to increasing their recycled content in packaging. Many have come out with 2025 or 2030 goals seeking to increase recycled content, which is creating a strong market for recycled PET even as prices have risen.
"The brand houses in the packaging area obviously are living up to some commitments that they have made, their sustainability commitments around content," he said. "That's evidenced by the demand despite the price premium."
He said recycled PET is about 20 percent more expensive than virgin material.
PET recyclers have increased consumption from about 1 billion pounds in 2010 to about 1.8 billion pounds in 2020, NAPCOR reports.
"Just like every plastic has its own unique properties that distinguishes itself in whatever packaging process they apply, they all have a little bit different supply-demand scenario in the recycled supply chains," Collier said. "Yes, some plastics do not have enough market demand. That is not the problem with the most recycled plastic in the world, which is PET. We have a supply problem, not a demand problem. I think that's the real message," he said.
NAPCOR, in 2020, came out in support of bottle bills as a way to help increase the supply of used PET to recycle. This decision came after years of essentially stagnant recycling rates. While use of PET has grown over the years, the recycling rate has hovered around 30 percent, give or take, in recent years. Until the impact of COVID-19, that is.
NAPCOR, which does not lobby, sees more of the same without a fundamental change.
"States with bottle deposit legislation have significantly higher collection rates than those without. I think brands and other folks are coming around to that if they are not already there. But that's the only way we're going to meet [recycled] PET content commitments we already have," Collier said.
PET needs to achieve a recycling rate of 50-55 percent, about double of today's numbers, to satisfy recycled-content commitments made by companies, Collier said.
"I believe policy has to be a central component to that. That's not in our control. That's in the legislative control. We've had a decade of being at that 30 percent, plus or minus 2. We've essentially had a decade of no change," he said.
A total of 10 states currently have deposit legislation and PET recycling rates could increase through more states adopting similar programs, or the potential for national legislation that would create uniform standards.
Collier was careful in choosing his words regarding the idea of a national bottle bill, instead directing the conversation to the idea of more states getting on board to increase the overall supply.
"I tell you, a couple of good states in the process gets a long way towards that goal. We're all about increasing that supply," he said. "We're pointing out a problem."
Strength of bottle-to-bottle PET recycling, fundamental in many brand owner sustainability campaigns, also is having an impact on how recycled PET is being used.
For the first time ever, bottle applications for recycled PET outpaced fiber usage in 2020, NAPCOR said. But that's not to say that the fiber demands for products such as carpeting and textiles is waning. Bottle demand for recycled PET was up 32 percent in just one year, according to the latest numbers.
NAPCOR, also for the first time, created a separate analysis of post-consumer PET thermoformed packaging in the latest report.
"It is very encouraging that we're seeing the growth of PET thermoforming," NAPCOR Communications Director Laura Stewart said. "It's been significant growth over the last several years."
NAPCOR said PET thermoform recycling grew by 6.2 percent in 2020 to 134.1 million pounds in the United States and Canada. That's a 63 percent increase since 2017, the group said.
The group now plans to include PET thermoform information in each year's report.