The 2020 U.S. Post-consumer Plastic Recycling Data Report has highlighted that like most industries, plastics recycling faced significant challenges through the COVID-19 pandemic. Major disruptions in collection and transportation, staffing shortages, and supply chain issues impacted the supply of material available for recycling. Despite those challenges, the trend of more U.S.-sourced post-consumer plastics acquired for use by reclaimers in North America continues. Of the post-consumer plastics sourced in the U.S., only 8 percent was exported overseas.

Sponsored by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), the Foundation for Plastic Recycling, The Recycling Partnership, and the U.S. Plastics Pact, the 2020 U.S. Post-consumer Plastic Recycling Data Report, by Stina inc., is based on surveys by Stina and the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR). The report presents the findings of the major post-consumer plastic categories recovered for recycling, including bottles, non-bottle rigid plastics, film, and other plastics. 

“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),” says Steve Alexander, APR president and CEO. “Expanding and streamlining recycling collection programs, less confusion with labelling, and reducing contamination through design for recyclability should be key priorities.”

In 2020, a total of 4,803.8 million pounds of post-consumer plastics sourced in the U.S. were recovered for recycling, down 5.7 percent compared to 2019. 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 one percent. In aggregate, recycling of bottles, non-bottle rigid plastics, film, and other plastics declined by 290 million pounds in 2020, compared to 2019.

North American reclaimers acquired 97 percent of the 2,744 million pounds of bottles recovered for recycling in the U.S. in 2020, a 24.6 million pound decrease over 2019. PET and HDPE bottles made up 98.8 percent of this total recovery at 64.4 percent and 34.4 percent, respectively. The combined bottle recycling rate was 27.2 percent, down from 28.7 percent in 2019, with the PET bottle recycling rate at 27.1 percent and HDPE at 28.8 percent. Bottles continued to make up most of the plastic recovered for recycling at 57.1 percent. Non-bottle rigids accounted for 22 percent, film at 20.5 percent, and other plastics made up the remainder at 0.3 percent.

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