US sees decline in post-pandemic plastic recycling volumes

In 2020, over 2 million tonnes of post-consumer plastics sourced in the US were recovered for recycling, down 5.7% compared to 2019, according to the 2020 US Post-consumer Plastic Recycling Data Report.

The report highlights that, “like most US-based industries”, plastics recycling faced “significant challenges” through the COVID-19 Pandemic. Staff shortages, major disruptions in collection and transportation, and supply chain issues have impacted the supply of material available for recycling.

Bottles, non-bottle rigids, and other plastics (excluding foam) categories all saw declines in the amount of material recovered for recycling in 2020, with Film collection up by just under 1%. In aggregate, recycling of bottles, non-bottle rigid plastics, film, and other plastics declined by 290 million pounds in 2020, compared to 2019.

Keefe Harrison, CEO of The Recycling Partnership, said: “The 2020 US Post-consumer Plastic Recycling Data Report shows that we need investment in the U.S. recycling system to boost the recycling rate for all materials, including plastics.

“As outlined in our Paying it Forward Report, we can quickly change US recycling rates by making sure that the 40 million American households who currently lack equitable recycling access get it and educating them to put the right thing into the bin. Scaling these smart solutions pays returns for the environment and the economy.”

Despite the challenges caused by the pandemic, the report says there was a continued trend of more US-sourced post-consumer plastics acquired for use by reclaimers in North America.

Steve Alexander, APR President & CEO, said: “We need more supply. Our industry faces significant challenges that require immediate solutions. We need to focus our efforts on technologies that are up and running today. Mechanical recyclers have the capacity to process more material but lack the supply to meet the current demand for post-consumer resin (PCR).

“Expanding and streamlining recycling collection programs, less confusion with labelling, and reducing contamination through design for recyclability should be key priorities.”

Amongst the report’s findings was that the non-bottle rigids category has declined by around 93,000 tonnes in 2020. It also shows that North American buyers continue to acquire the majority (89%) of US sourced non-bottle rigid plastic recovered for recycling.

Emily Tipaldo, Executive Director of the US Plastics Pact, said: “These data insights are critical to transparency and point to the need for (a) greater supply of PCR for companies to meet the US Plastics Pact’s 2025 Targets.

“Adherence to the APR Design Guide for Plastics Recyclability and the elimination of contaminants in the stream will improve the quality and quantity of what is reclaimed for recycling.”

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