Plastic waste pile

A drop in overall plastics collection contributed to a decline in the annual bottle recycling rate, which decreased to 27.8% in 2022. | Mohamed Abdulraheem/Shutterstock

Just over 5 billion pounds of post-consumer plastic was recovered for recycling in 2022, an annual industry report found, marking a decrease from the prior year. One trade association pointed to macroeconomic factors like inflation as driving the lower recovery.

The 2022 U.S. Post-consumer Plastic Recycling Data Dashboard, released March 28, found that 5.02 billion pounds of post-consumer plastic were recovered for recycling that year. The figure covers bottles, non-bottle rigids, film and other plastics.

The figure represents a drop of 71 million pounds, or about 1.4%, from 2021. It marks a reversal of the 2021 trend, which saw a significant increase of 285 million pounds over the prior year. It drove a decrease in the plastic bottle recycling rate, the only material category for which a rate is calculated in the report. The 2022 rate was 27.8%, down from 29.3% in 2021.

Robin Wiener, president of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, or ISRI, said the report “reflects what was happening in the manufacturing sector and broader economy during 2022.” Inflation pressuring consumer goods markets was a primary driver, Wiener said in a statement.

“Less consumer consumption led to less manufacturing and ultimately lower collection volume for certain products,” Wiener said.

Reclaimers who contributed data for the report also indicated industry-specific challenges that constrained collection in 2022.

“Survey responders provided comments such as ‘demand and supply are down,'” the report states. “Some expressed a price crunch in that bale prices were high while demand for PCR low. Despite such headwinds some reclaimers have made or are making plans for new investments and expansions in processing.”

The report was compiled by Stina Inc., a recycling industry research and consulting firm that has issued the annual update for more than 10 years, on behalf of ISRI, the Association of Plastic Recyclers and the U.S. Plastics Pact. APR owns Resource Recycling, Inc., publisher of Resource Recycling.

The report is based on a voluntary survey of scrap plastic processors, brokers, exporters and other material handlers. It also draws on a PET-specific survey conducted by industry association NAPCOR, which issues its own PET container recovery report.

Although the overall volume decreased, the report indicates North American reclaimers processed slightly more plastic than they did the prior year. Nearly 94% of collected plastic remained in North America for processing, the report indicates.

Material trends

Although there was an overall volume decrease, the trend varied by material category.

Bottles, which made up 56% of all plastic collected, decreased by 107.1 million pounds to reach 2.78 billion pounds. PET bottle volume was down by 25 million pounds, HDPE was down by 80.4 million pounds, and PP and other bottles were down by 1.7 million pounds.

Non-bottle rigids made up 22% of collected plastic at 1.11 billion pounds, up by 40.8 million pounds compared to 2021. The portion of this material that came from separated resins increased and represented 88.7% of the rigid plastic total. The rest was material extracted from mixed-plastic bales.

Film collection totaled 1.1 billion pounds, up by a marginal 4.2 million pounds over the prior year. Clear PE and agricultural film collection increased, while all other categories declined. Clear PE film now makes up the largest single film category, at 48% of all collected film.

Other plastics, a category covering “fiber, filaments, and other semi-rigid flexible products and packaging not covered under the existing categories” but excluding foam and carpet, contributed 11 million pounds of plastic to the total.

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