Empty PET bottles gathered for recycling.

Resin sales for plastic bottle production grew to nearly 9.9 billion pounds in 2018. | Wachiwit/Shutterstock

More plastic bottles were recycled in 2018 than the prior year. But because of an overall bottle production increase, the recycling rate fell.

The latest National Postconsumer Plastic Bottle Recycling Report was released in December by the American Chemistry Council (ACC) and Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR). APR owns Resource Recycling, Inc., which publishes Plastics Recycling Update.

The report found that U.S. consumers recycled nearly 2.9 billion pounds of plastic bottles in 2018, a figure that includes resins 1-7. That was an increase from 2.8 billion pounds recycled in 2017.

But resin sales for plastic bottle production grew from 9.5 billion pounds in 2017 to nearly 9.9 billion pounds in 2018. Because that growth significantly outpaced recycling increases, the plastic bottle recycling rate fell slightly from 29.3% in 2017 to 28.9% in 2018. The resin sales figure includes both virgin and recycled plastic.

“The post-consumer plastic bottle recycling industry experienced a third difficult year in 2018 with less growth in pounds collected than in pounds of bottles on store shelves,” the report states.

The difficult year was underscored by a substantial decline in recovered bottle exports. After 15.2% of recovered plastic bottles were exported in 2017, just 9.9% left the country in 2018. That’s an ongoing decline – the report points out that exports in 2011 and earlier were higher than 30%.

The report was compiled from reclaimer surveys from consulting firm More Recycling and PET-specific figures from the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR). This is the 29th year the report has been published.

NAPCOR released its PET-specific bottle recycling rate report earlier in December.

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