More PET bottles were collected for recycling last year, but the overall recycling rate remains stagnant, according to an industry report.
The annual report from the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) shows over 1.8 billion pounds of PET bottles were collected in the U.S. for recycling in 2018, up 5% over the previous year.
But the U.S. recycling rate for those bottles remained roughly flat at 28.9%, compared to 29.2% in 2017, because generation increased. The rate is calculated by dividing total PET bottles recycled domestically and exported by the total used in U.S. bottles.
The rate has been roughly flat for years. The average over the past 10 years has been 29.6%, according to NAPCOR.
The following were a few takeaways from the 2018 report:
Domestic versus export: The report noted an ongoing shift away from exports and toward domestic outlets. In 2018, U.S. reclaimers purchased nearly 1.7 billion pounds of recovered PET bottles, up 16% from the year before. About 140 million pounds of PET bottle scrap were exported (including to Canada), a decrease of 50%. The percentage exported – just under 8% – is the lowest since 2000. The increase in purchases from U.S. reclaimers more than offset the exports decrease.
End market shifts: The amount of recycled PET going into bottles (including both food and beverage and non-food/beverage) was up in 2018, while the amount going into fiber, strapping, sheet and thermoforms was down, according to NAPCOR. The group pointed to a growing appetite for recycled-content packaging by consumer goods companies, as well as tight supply and high virgin PET prices.
“We continue to be encouraged by brands and their commitment to utilize post-consumer PET content in their packaging,” Tom Busard, NAPCOR chairman and president of reclaimer Clean Tech, stated in a press release. “The PET reclaimer industry is truly a critical piece in this change, supporting their customers with RPET needed for content requirements.”
Recycling rates and investments needed: Brand owners have made a number of pledges to boost the recycled content of their PET packaging. The NAPCOR report provides an estimate of the recycling rate that would be needed to supply enough RPET to meet those commitments, as well as the estimated investments required. To meet a 15% recycled-content target, the U.S. would have to notch a 38.3% recycling rate, and an investment of over half a billion dollars would be required. For 25% recycled content, a 54.2% recycling rate and $1.5 billion would be needed. And to achieve a 50% target, a 94% recycling rate and $3.7 billion would be required.
NAPCOR has published the PET Recycling Report for nearly a quarter century. This year’s document, which is being sold for the first time, includes expanded content.
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