Recycling of nonbottle plastics like yogurt tubs and clamshells basically held steady in 2018, with a new report showing both hurdles like low demand for recycled content and some bright spots in the domestic market.
The U.S. and Canada collected about 1.3 billion pounds of such packaging for recycling in 2018, which was a drop of 3.5 percent from 2017, according to the 2018 National Post-Consumer Nonbottle Rigid Plastic Recycling Report released Aug. 18 by the American Chemistry Council.
The packaging in the report, among the most challenging to recycle, saw a jump of 4 percent in the amounts collected for domestic recycling, while exports dropped 35 percent as many overseas markets limited what they took over concerns about pollution from waste imports.
In a news release, ACC highlighted the continued domestic growth in the U.S. and Canada, with collections more than doubling since 2010.
But the report also noted challenges like municipal recycling programs not being equipped to properly handle much of it and a lack of consistent demand for recycled content.
As well, to put the figures in broader perspective, some of the prominent packaging types in the report have very low recycling rates.
Polypropylene packaging, for example, makes up 36 percent of what's measured in the report, but PP containers and packaging had a recycling rate of only 8 percent in 2017, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. ACC's study did not include rate information.
ACC said the report shows the need to improve recycling systems in the U.S.
"This year's report shows the importance of continuing to modernize our domestic recycling infrastructure," said Keith Christman, the managing director of plastics markets for ACC's plastics division. "Advanced sortation equipment, combined with expanded access to recycling, shows that we can move toward more circular systems for using and reusing plastics."
Greenpeace, which released a detailed report early this year on challenges facing local recycling programs in the U.S., said the challenges show the need to move away from single-use packaging.
"Other than PET and HDPE [high density polyethylene] bottles and jugs, and a small portion of polypropylene containers, nearly everything included in the ACC's analysis is just contamination that has to be sorted and removed from recycling streams before being dumped or burned," said John Hocevar, oceans campaign director for Greenpeace USA.
"Talking about recovery rates without considering what happens afterward isn't particularly useful," he said. "We need to move the conversation upstream and focus on moving away from single-use packaging."
This particular ACC report does not include PET and HDPE bottles, which are covered in other industry reports and are the most recycled plastic packaging in the United States, with around 30 percent of them recycled each year.