September 20, 2022
Anyone with the least interest in recycling has heard the drumbeat of bad news. Recyclables diverted to landfills. Plastics recovery via recycling at a moribund less than ten percent. Regarding the percentage of plastics being recycled, Steve Alexander of the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) wrote in a recent NERC blog, “The authors [of a report on plastics recycling rates] intentionally failed to acknowledge that the low numbers they cite include ALL plastic items, including durable plastic items not collected through community recycling programs.
“The fact is that 21 percent of PET, polypropylene and high density polyethylene rigid plastic packaging — the kind of plastic that makes up the majority of consumer packaging and what consumers put in their blue bins — is recycled,” Alexander reported.
Kara Pochiro, APR’s Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs, told Plastics Today, “Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation reported in recent months, and we want to ensure the real facts are reported, as well. Americans want recycling to work — and telling them it is not [working] only serves to undermine recycling and the efforts of consumers.”
To help set the record straight on plastics recycling, APR recently published a report entitled Recommit, Reimagine, Rework Recycling: How public policy and investment in post-consumer plastic collection and processing can help to meet sustainability ambitions. “Recycling in the U.S. is a $236 billion industry,” the report states at the outset. “Plastic recycling alone is responsible for over 200,000 U.S. jobs.”
“In 2020, despite…obstacles and the unique challenges caused by a global pandemic and related lockdowns, American recyclers processed almost five billion pounds of post-consumer plastic material,” the report continues. “Most importantly, the demand for recycled material from the companies who buy it and turn it into new products, is stronger than ever.”
“Increasing the recycling rate is important because demand for recycled material, a key driver of the recycling chain, is stronger than ever, spurred by a variety of factors including brand sustainability commitments and legislative activity,” Alexander said.
“U.S. plastic recyclers could raise the PET and HDPE bottle recycling rate to over 40% today using our country’s existing processing infrastructure if they were able to access more material,” the report insists.
The report offers the following steps to improve domestic recycling of plastics:
• Ensure that all new products and packaging being made today are compatible with recycling.
• Streamline labeling to minimize consumer confusion.
• Increase the number of community recycling programs.
• Harmonize the types of plastic…that are collected in each community program so that plastic items are universally recyclable.
• Invest in upgrades to current community collection and sortation infrastructure.
• Continue to promote and incentivize the use of recycled content.
• Encourage the consideration of the true cost of disposal.
“We can recommit to recycling in this country by reimagining the public policies that support its success and reworking our infrastructure to ensure that a circular economy for plastic can thrive,” the report concludes.
“Through the combination of laws continuing to pass across the states and brand sustainability commitments, we expect to see demand for recycled plastic continue to grow,” Pochiro added.
By Robert Kropp, NERC Bookkeeper/Office Manager