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Can innovative partnerships salvage America’s slumping bottle recycling rates?

The US recycled a total of 2.8 billion pounds of plastic bottles in 2017. This is a decrease of 3.6% compared to the previous year, according to new figures released by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) and the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

America scored a recycling rate of 29.3% for plastic bottles in 2017, down 0.4 percentage points from 29.7 percent in 2016. The five-year compounded annual growth rate for plastic bottle recycling was 0.1%, adds the 28th annual National Post-consumer Plastic Bottle Recycling Report.

The number of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles collected for recycling decreased by 27 million pounds in 2017. Meanwhile, the recycling of high density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles – such as milk bottles – fell by 70.3 million pounds to just over 1.0 billion pounds for the year. The recycling rate for HDPE bottles slipped from 33.4 percent to 31.1 percent.

Also, exports of HDPE bottles fell nearly 28% from 193 million pounds to 140 million pounds, or 13.4% of total HDPE bottles collected in 2017. The processing of recycled HDPE sourced domestically and imported fell by 31 million pounds that year.

It is noted that the collection of polypropylene (PP) bottles fell 15.2% to 31.1 million pounds, as the PP collection rate dropped to 17.2%.

Ongoing increases in single-stream collection has resulted in increased contamination of recyclables, the two associations observe. They point out that growth in the use of plastic for bottles was offset by the lightweighting trend, thus reducing the volume of material collected.

‘Plastic bottle recycling is proving to be resilient in the face of short-term challenges,’ comments Steve Alexander, president of APR. ‘The recycling industry is responding in kind, with some investing in increased US infrastructure. This is a clear sign of a positive long-term outlook,’ he adds. And he goes on to state: ‘These investments underscore the need for continued consumer participation and convenient access to recycling programmes.’

For example, CarbonLite recently announced it is expanding its US operations by building a third PET recycling facility in the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania. Also, Nestlé Waters North America says it aims to achieve 25% food-grade recycled plastic across its US domestic portfolio by 2021.

Not least, Coca-Cola has provided a loan to Ioniqa Technologies to support the development of its technology for PET upcycling.

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