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Recycling of Non-Bottle Rigid Plastics Up 33%

The amount of post-consumer non-bottle rigid plastic recovered for recycling increased by a third between 2008 and 2009, according to the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

The ACC’s third annual report (pdf) on this subset of plastic recycling found that at least 479 million pounds were recovered in 2009, a 47 percent increase since 2007.

About 51 percent of the 2009 material was manufactured into new products in the U.S. or Canada, with the rest exported, mostly to China. The primary domestic end uses for these plastics are composite products, such as lumber and railroad ties, and relatively thick-walled injection products such as pots and crates.

Some non-bottle rigid plastics are collected as part of commercial recycling efforts – for example, companies recycle used crates, pallets and e-scrap, the ACC said. But the report said that the growth in recovery of these plastics is mostly due to community efforts.

In some cases companies have started community-based collection programs for their own products for specific resins, the ACC said. These initiatives typically take the form of mail-back or drop-off programs. These can allow companies more control over what they receive and ensure that the material is cleaner.

More and more buyers are competing for used polyethylene bottles, causing some reclaimers to turn to processing non-bottle HDPE and PP containers to produce resin for new products, the APP reported.

The ACC advocated for reducing the country’s reliance on China as a market for plastic scrap.

“By [relying on export to China] we are exporting jobs, and other downstream benefits, and we are essentially exporting energy. Recycling benefits are strongest when local,” the ACC said.

A key challenge to increasing domestic processing is collecting enough quality material, the ACC argued. Quality has been held back by a lack of clear terminology and bale specifications, a lack of consistent consumer education and by incentives that have encouraged materials reclamation facilities to export to China, the ACC said.

Municipal officials should address these concerns by capping the amount of waste and out-throws that reclamation companies can produce, the ACC said.

Plastic scrap prices and demand were sluggish in the first quarter of 2009 but then rose slowly for the rest of the year, the report said. Pricing and demand are now strong and steady, ACC said. A handful of plastic reclaimers decreased purchases of mixed rigid bales in 2009, likely due to the rebounding of export market prices.

The report was based on post-consumer recovery data reported by 25 plastic processors and end-users (six more than in 2008) and 35 exporters (nine more than in 2008). ACC also used data from the National Association of PET Container Resources.

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