US PET bottle recycling rate jumps 1.5% after years of decline

Emily Friedman


HOUSTON (ICIS)–The US polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottle recycling rate has increased to 28.6%, after being in decline since 2017, according to recent data from the National Association of (PET) Container Resources (NAPCOR) 2021 PET Recycling Report.

Over 861,825 tonnes of beverage and non-food/beverage bottles were reclaimed, resulting in an increase of 1.5% in comparison to 2020.

In North America as a whole, PET bottle recycling rates were 36.8%, up from 34.2% in 2020.

In addition, deposit redemption systems in bottle bill states saw a massive boost in volume collection, up by 46% in comparison to 2020 volumes.

Moreover, NAPCOR has also recently revised past bottle recycling rates, reflecting new assumptions related to California PET thermoform and bottle collection volumes, suggesting overall higher rates the past several years than initially estimated.

“The rebound in the amount of PET bottles collected in 2021 is encouraging,” adds Tom Busard, NAPCOR Chairman, chief polymers and recycling officer for Plastipak Packaging, Inc, and president of Clean Tech, Plastipak’s recycling affiliate. “PET recycling is working, but there is a need to see increased collection to meet both legislated and voluntary recycled content demands of the future.”

This comes as four states (California, Washington, New Jersey and Maine) have mandated recycled plastic content in both food and beverage packaging as well as other plastic items such as bags.

Connecticut is set to be the fifth state to mandate plastic recycled content, as rule making is supposed to conclude at the end of this month.

Furthermore, California’s PCR content mandate in beverage bottles, which went into effect January 2022, will begin penalising those who are not compliant as of 1 January 2023. The fine is 20 cents/lb for every pound of material missed.

According to the report, the food/beverage packaging end market alone was responsible for the largest share of US R-PET consumption in 2021, surpassing the fibre industry.

In order to adapt to increasing competition for premium colourless PET bottle feedstock, the fibre industry had begun to source additional volumes from coloured PET waste sources or post-industrial feedstocks.

PET collection was also strong in other formats such as thermoforms, which saw record collection volumes at 64,410 tonnes. Nearly 5,000 tonnes were then used in circular tray-to-tray recycling.

While 2021 data seems promising in regard to the growing US recycled PET (R-PET) industry, it remains to be seen how next year’s data will reflect the current market demand weakness.


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