PET bottles collected for recycling.

A report from plastics industry group NAPCOR indicated the U.S. PET bottle recycling rate was 28.9% in 2018, down from 29.2% in 2017. | pook jun/Shutterstock

The U.S. recycling rates for both PET bottles and all plastic bottles have fallen slightly, according to two reports released by industry groups.

PET bottles

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 study also documented 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.

All plastic bottles

The American Chemistry Council (ACC) and Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) jointly released a report examining the recycling of all post-consumer bottles, including those made of PET, HDPE, PVC, LDPE, PP and other polymers (APR owns Resource Recycling, Inc.)

The research found that U.S. consumers recycled nearly 2.9 billion pounds of plastic bottles last year, up from 2.8 billion pounds recycled in 2017. But because of growing sales of resin for plastic bottle production, the recycling rate fell slightly from 29.3% in 2017 to 28.9% in 2018.

The report also looked at the decrease in exports. After 15.2% of recovered plastic bottles were exported in 2017, just 9.9% left the country in 2018. The report points out that exports in 2011 and earlier were higher than 30%.

The ACC-APR report was based on reclaimer surveys from consulting firm More Recycling and the PET-specific figures from NAPCOR.

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