Post-consumer PET container recycling in the United States rebounded in 2021 after taking a big hit the year before as the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns were in full force.
New statistics released Dec. 14 by the National Association for PET Container Resources put PET recycling at 28.6 percent for 2021, up from 27.1 percent in 2020 when the recycling rate cratered during the early stages of the pandemic.
A total of 1.93 billion pounds of post-consumer PET bottles were collected last year, according to NAPCOR's 2021 PET Recycling Report.
"We just want to continue to demonstrate that the PET industry does have a very strong infrastructure. The reclaimers, the folks who are working in the industry every day, are working hard to make sure that we are recycling as much as we can," NAPCOR Executive Director Laura Stewart said.
"But we do have our work cut out for us in the future. The numbers are good this year. It's exciting to see us back closer to the 30 percent level for U.S., but we can't let our foot off the pedal," she said. "We need to continue working to find ways to increase the amount of recovery we can do for PET."
The new numbers also added revised data collection methodology, which NAPCOR said provides more accuracy.
Using the new approach, NAPCOR revised the 26.6 percent recycling rate previously reported for 2020 to 27.1 percent in the latest numbers contained in the highly anticipated annual report.
"We changed the methodology of the survey questions to make it more clear. It was previously underestimated," Stewart said in a phone interview.
In a follow-up email, the executive director provided some additional insight.
"This change was made to correct for overestimation of thermoforms in PET bales from California and applied retroactively to years 2017 through 2020. Since thermoform volumes are subtracted from post-consumer PET bottle bale weights to measure bottle recycling activity, this change ultimately shifted PET bottle collection rates and related data slightly upwards for those years," she said.