According to the “Report on Postconsumer PET Container Recycling Activity in 2015,” the U.S. achieved a recycling rate of 30.1% for polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles last year. This percentage, however, shows a slight downward trend in PET bottle collection volumes over the past year, since the PET recycling rate in 2014 was 31%.
If 60% of the U.S. population — that’s about 148 million people — has access to a plastics recycling program, then what is causing the drop in the PET recycling rate?
There certainly has been no shortage of PET plastic available for recycling. Since 2014, the volume of PET bottles in the U.S. increased to 5,971 million pounds. Unfortunately, the total domestic end use of recycled PET dropped from 1,564 million pounds in 2014 to 1,421 million pounds last year. In other words, fewer industries are electing to use recycled PET, creating less of a demand.
Regardless, authors of the report from the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) and the Associate of Plastic Recyclers (APR) are remaining entirely optimistic
“This is a positive report,” said J. Scott Saunders, APR chairman and general manager of W Plastics Recycling Division in Troy, Alabama. “It clearly demonstrates the strength of the plastics recycling market to maintain market share in the face of the significant global economic slowdown, coupled with the precipitous drop in virgin feedstock prices. We must continue to address key issues in the recycled PET supply chain, such as increasing quality collection, improving processing systems, and designing PET bottles for recyclability.”
Despite the efforts of the recycling industry, the majority of recyclable plastic is still going to waste, either piling up in landfills across the country or littering our lakes and oceans. That is why some cities and states are attempting to ban certain plastic products altogether.
In 2014, San Francisco became the first American city to pass an ordinance restricting the sale of plastic water bottles on city property.
“San Francisco now has one of the strongest common-sense bottled water policies in the country,” said Lauren DeRusha, senior national campaign organizer with Corporate Accountability International. “With grassroots support at a high point, San Francisco is now poised to strengthen the policy even further, blazing the way for cities across the country to make public spending on bottled water a thing of the past.”
Now, the entire state of California is poised to make a decision about the fate of another type of plastic product — single-use plastic bags. On the ballot next month will be a referendum that will either uphold or overturn the 2007 ban on plastic shopping bags.
While nine out of 10 Americans report reusing plastic bags, many Californians would prefer not to use them at all since they are harmful to the environment and — unlike PET bottles — they cannot be recycled.
Believe it or not, steel is one of the most recycled materials on the planet. In fact, 90% of the world’s steel is recycled. Unfortunately, this is not the case for plastic. The overproduction of plastic has become troubling for many environmentalists. While much of it cannot be recycled and therefore goes to waste, the plastic materials that can be recycled are often disposed of incorrectly. To combat this issue, NAPCOR, APR, and other recycling groups are working to spread awareness about proper disposal practices so that more recyclable materials will stay out of the waste stream.