Thursday, March 21st, 2013
A couple of reports showing real progress in recycling rigid plastics other than bottles came as good news when they were released Tuesday to attendees at the Plastics Recycling Conference in New Orleans.
The first report shows that recycling of rigid plastics, excluding bottles, increased 13 percent in 2011, growing to at least 934 million pounds. The second report revels that the share of U.S. consumers with local access to recycling all non-bottle rigid plastics jumped from 40 percent in 2011 to 57% in 2012.
Both reports are based on extensive survey work done by Moore Recycling Associates (Sonoma, CA) on behalf of the American Chemistry Council (ACC, Washington, D.C.). The first report, “2011 National Postconsumer Non-Bottle Rigid Plastic Recycling Report,” has another piece of good news: In 2011, 61 percent of rigid plastics collected in the United States were recycled in the United States or Canada. When Moore Recycling began studying rigid plastics collection in 2007, just over a third of the collected material was recycled in North America.
Also according to the report, polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene (PE) together make up the largest share (70 percent) of the non-bottle postconsumer rigid plastics collected in the U.S., with PP at 39 percent and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) being 31 percent.
A key factor in the recent growth of rigid plastics recycling has been a substantial increase in the number of communities collecting many types of rigid plastics in addition to bottles. The second report, “Plastic Recycling Collection: National Reach Study, 2012 Update,” found that more than 1,400 cities and 300 counties in the United States now collect all rigid plastic containers, in addition to plastic bottles.
The consumer access report also showed that the portion of U.S. consumers with access to recycle two key categories of rigid containers—HDPE rigid cups, tubs and containers, and PET trays, clamshells and cups—now exceeds 60 percent. This marks the first time that, under the Federal Trade Commission’s guidelines, recycling access is sufficiently widespread to label these containers “recyclable” without the need for additional qualification or disclaimer.
ACC pointed out that, within the Sustainable Packaging Coalition’s How2Recycle label system, HDPE and PET containers have surpassed the “Limited Recycling/Check Locally” category and now meet criteria for the “Widely Recycled” category. According to the report, rigid polypropylene containers are the next likely class of rigid plastics to approach FTC’s “recyclability” threshold with 58.4 percent of U.S. consumers currently able to recycle these items locally.
We still have much to do to make recycling widely accepted and practiced, but progress is being made.