Plastics recycling is inching forward, according to all the latest data.
While some in the media are convinced that plastics recycling is a myth, the numbers show that it's a substantial business — and growing. Whether that's happening fast enough to head off a new wave of product bans and resin taxes is another story. But we know it's a growing market.
Last month the annual post-consumer plastics recycling data came out. It shows the volume of post-consumer plastic recycled in the United States increased by almost 300 million pounds between 2020 and 2021. That was significant news since recycling had slumped in 2020, which experts blamed on the pandemic.
U.S. recyclers handled more than 5 billion pounds of post-consumer plastics in 2021, according to the 2021 Post-consumer Plastic Recycling Data Report. In this week's Plastics News, our annual recycling report seems to indicate that the trend continued in 2022.
It's not an apples-to-apples comparison. The researchers behind the annual post-consumer report go to great lengths to come up with comprehensive data for the entire sector, and they parse the numbers to make sure that none of the pounds are being counted more than once.
Our ranking doesn't attempt to do that. But we do try to rank all of the plastics recyclers in North America by their volume so readers know their relative size and what materials they handle.
Let's take a look at the results of our recent survey of North American recyclers and brokers. For our special report in this week's issue, 179 companies are included in our directory listing, and 160 of those have volume figures.
Our ranking has captured 13.8 billion pounds of plastic, and 76 percent, or 10.6 billion pounds, of that was reprocessed. Comparing the numbers year over year, reprocessed material volume was up 2.9 percent. That's a gain, even if by inches.
In our survey, we also asked for a breakout of brokered material. The volume of brokered material in 2022 picked up 4.8 percent.
For this year's report, 42 percent of the material that recyclers reported handling was post-consumer, and 58 percent was post-industrial. With today's focus on sustainability, post-consumer gets all the attention, but post-industrial recycling is still a huge business.
The top three recycled materials in our ranking remain high density polyethylene, polypropylene and PET.