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North American plastic recycling rates highlight need for investment in collection and infrastructure

North American plastic recycling rates highlight need for investment in collection and infrastructure

North American recyclers continue to recycle the majority of the post-consumer plastic recovered for recycling. 

Recycling of plastics in North America has risen approximately 8 percent since 2017. However, the recycling industry faces ongoing challenges according to a 2019 survey sponsored by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), the Foundation for Plastic Recycling, and the American Chemistry Council (ACC).

Most of the material recovered for recycling in the United States in 2019 was purchased by reclaimers in the United States or Canada (87.9 percent combined) with just 12.1 percent exported overseas. Within the 12.1 percent of exports, bottle exports rose slightly by 26 million pounds; non-bottle rigid exports stayed flat; and post-consumer film exports dipped by 28.5 million pounds.

The 2019 U.S. Post-Consumer Plastic Recycling Data Report presents the findings of the major plastic categories recovered for recycling, by destination, with changes over time. In 2019, a total of 5,094 million pounds of post-consumer plastic sourced in the United States was recovered for recycling. Post-consumer plastics in the study included bottles, non-bottle rigid plastics, film, and other plastic but not foam.

In aggregate, recycling of bottles, non-bottle rigid plastic and film declined by 27 million pounds in 2019 or 0.5 percent. Compared to 2018, the largest increase in recycling in 2019 was among non-bottle rigid plastics (45.9 million pounds) and the largest drop in recycling was in PET bottles (39.3 million pounds). 

Although film plastic overall declined, there was an increase in film recovered for recycling from retail and agricultural sources. Plastic bottles continued to make up the majority of the plastic recovered for recycling at 55.2 percent, with non-bottle rigids accounting for 25.3 percent, film 19.2 percent, and other plastic, excluding foam, making up the remainder at 0.3 percent.

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