recycling plastics packaging

The estimate was derived using data from the U.S. EPA and industry associations APR and NAPCOR. | Photka/Shutterstock

A report from the U.S. Plastics Pact found a national recycling rate of 13.3% for plastic packaging and an overall potentially recyclable, reusable or compostable rate of 36% for Pact members.

According to the U.S. Plastics Pact’s Annual Report, based on data from 2021, the Pact’s 117 members produced 37% of plastic packaging in the U.S. by weight, amounting to 5.9 million tons. Of that tonnage, 36% was reusable, recyclable or compostable and 13.3% actually was recycled. 

The data represents the latest industry effort to bring more quantification to the discussion on plastic packaging recovery. The Association of Plastic Recyclers, for instance, released a report in August 2022 noting 21% of HDPE, PET and PP packaging is recycled in the U.S.

To calculate its packaging recycling rate, the U.S. Pact used figures from the U.S. EPA’s annual Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures report “with recognition of its shortcomings.” The group combined those numbers with data points from the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR). (APR owns Resource Recycling, Inc.)

“The U.S. Pact is seeking to actively influence the evolution of data for both the recycling and composting rates of plastic packaging,” the report noted. 

The U.S. Pact’s goal is to effectively recycle or compost an average of 50% of plastic packaging by 2025, with higher goals for PET, PP and HDPE bottles and lower goals for film and HDPE non-bottles. 

The organization, which is supported by a range of plastics packaging stakeholders and is tied to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, has targeted extended producer responsibility (EPR), deposit return systems and post-consumer recycled content mandates as key ways to do so, along with expanded collection and better efficiency from MRFs and reclaimers. 

In addition, U.S. Pact members average about 8% recycled content in their packaging, the report also noted, and 86% of plastic packaging placed on the market by U.S. Pact members by weight did not contain items on the Problematic and Unnecessary Materials List

The organization’s goals are to reach 100% recycled, reusable or compostable packaging, eliminate the items on the Problematic and Unnecessary Materials List and reach an average of 30% recycled content, all by 2025. 

Emily Tipaldo, executive director of the U.S. Pact, said in the report that “conceding on 2025 commitments will not foster the support still needed to shake the plastics packaging value chain out of the status quo.” 

“We must continue to push the boundaries of collaboration and transparency to build the circular economy for plastics packaging,” she said. 

A version of this story appeared in Resource Recycling on Feb. 28.

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