Post-consumer plastic bottle recycling in the US passed the three billion pound (1.36 billion kg) mark last year for the first time, according to two leading trade bodies.
New figures from the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC) showed that bottle recycling increased by 97 million pounds (44 million kg), up 3.3% year-on-year, while the overall plastic bottle recycling rate came in at 31.8%.
PET and high density polyethylene accounted for 97.2% of the plastic bottle recycling market, with polypropylene accounting for another 2.6%.
“All trends are positive this year, in a very tough market, said APR executive director Steve Alexander.
“We're pleased that we continue to both maintain and see slight growth going forward, and we're excited that the record number of bottles were collected last year.”
Keith Christman, managing director of plastics markets at the ACC, said he believed the increase could be attributed to a number of factors. “I think this reflects single-stream recycling, the success of that in getting more people to participate in recycling,” he said.
Single-stream allows consumers to mix all of their recyclables in one bin, instead of having to separate out the items prior to collection. This approach has led to increased household participation and volumes.
Movement of recycling programmes to start accepting all types of plastic bottles had helped push the numbers higher, Christman said.
“We know that from studies that have been done over the years. Having more communities recognize the need to collect all plastic bottles makes it easier for people and increases plastic bottle recycling,” he added.
While overall tonnage is up, the year-over-year increase slowed from 2013 to 2014 in terms of actually pounds collected.
Numbers released last year for 2013 showed that post-consumer plastic bottle collection increased by 120 million pounds (54 million kg). The increase was 161 million pounds (73 million kg) in 2012.
“One factor playing an important part there is light weighting of bottles that we see continuing,” Christman said.
As bottles get lighter, recyclers have to collect more to keep pace. “It makes it harder to have dramatic increases in the pounds of recycling if the amount of material going on to the marketplace is growing more slowly,” he said.
Also impacting the overall size of the post-consumer plastic bottle market is the fact that some products are switching to smaller bottles thanks to the use of concentrated formulas.
While PP bottle recycling remains small compared to HDPE and PET, Alexander pointed to a 28.3% collection increase in that category year-on-year. PP bottle recycling reached 79.5 million pounds (36 million) last year, representing a collection rate of 44.9%.
The latest results mark 25 consecutive years of plastic bottle recycling growth dating back to 1990 when the survey was first conducted, the trade groups said.
“We're excited that the record number of bottles were collected last year,” Alexander said.