Plastics Recycling Update

WM provides details on its plastics management

Waste Management handled about 10% fewer tons of scrap plastic in 2022 than it did in 2021. | Rblfmr/Shutterstock

Waste Management handled 465,000 tons of scrap plastic bales in 2022, down from the previous year because recycling plant upgrades required temporary shutdowns. 

WM, the largest garbage and recycling company in North America, recently published its 2022 sustainability report, which noted that temporary shutdowns at four materials recovery facilities (MRFs) last year resulted in a slight reduction in recyclables handled. 

Overall, the Houston-based company recovered 14.8 million tons of recyclables in 2022, down 3% from the prior year (the tonnage figure includes construction and demolition debris/wood, fly ash and other materials not collected at the curb). In addition to the MRF shutdowns, WM experienced a reduction in tons recovered from third parties and organics last year, the report noted.

For plastics, the tonnage WM handled dropped by 10% from 2021 to 2022.  

The report also touches on WM’s purchase of a controlling interest in plastics reclaimer Natura PCR, which it acquired last year and is now looking to help scale up.  

“With this investment, WM expects to be well positioned to help meet the growing demand both to recycle more film and provide post-consumer resin pellets to meet customer requirements for higher recycled content in packaging,” the report stated. 

The company is also participating in several curbside film collection pilot projects across the U.S., with a longer-term goal of providing 8% of U.S. households with curbside film recycling. At full capacity, the program could yield 120,000 tons of film per year.

Plastic makes up a fairly small percentage of the weight of recyclables WM handles – about 3% – but its value on a per-pound basis is among the highest of all materials. 

Progress toward larger goal

Overall, WM wants to increase its recyclables tons managed to 25 million tons by 2030. That number is a 60% increase over the company’s 2021 baseline number. It also has an interim goal of a 25% increase by 2025. 

The company is undergoing a multi-year capital project estimated at $1 billion to upgrade its MRFs around the country. Last year, WM completed four automation projects. The company also opened a new construction and demolition debris recycling facility in Miami-Dade County, Fla. in 2022. 

“Our new recycling facilities can process a higher volume of materials, and we anticipate our material volumes will increase as new and upgraded recycling facilities come online in the near term,” according to the report.

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