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PET bottle recycling rates held steady in 2022

A pile of plastic bottles
The PET recycling collection rate has remained steady, at around 30 percent over the past decade. Adobe Stock Images

The National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR) has released its 2022 PET Recycling Report. The report found that PET recycling rates held steady with the U.S. rate at 29 percent and the North American PET recycling rate at 37.8 percent. Demand for recycled PET (rPET) also remained strong in 2022, and a new milestone was reached with over 50 percent of end market consumption in the U.S. and Canada in bottle markets for the first time.

"There is a growing demand for recycled content from manufacturers within both the food/beverage and non-food bottle categories," said Laura Stewart, NAPCOR executive director. "This is continued evidence that packaging made from PET can be reused and repurposed and has a key role to play in the circular economy. Everyone involved, including manufacturers, consumers, and packagers, needs to work together and make significant changes to ensure enough PET is collected and full circularity can be achieved."

"It is encouraging to see strong demand for postconsumer recycled PET," said Tom Busard, NAPCOR chairman, chief polymers and recycling officer for Plastipak Packaging, and president of Clean Tech, Plastipak's recycling affiliate. "To continue meeting this demand, there is a need to see increased collection to meet both legislated and voluntary recycled content demands of the future." 

The PET recycling collection rate has remained steady, at around 30 percent over the past decade, while there is a growing demand for more post-consumer recycled content among North American end markets. To meet this increased demand, more PET packaging needs to be collected through new policies, changes in consumer habits, and better recycling infrastructure.

Other key findings from the analysis of PET reclamation and markets from the report:

  • The PET recycling rate in the U.S. was 29 percent, down slightly from 30.3 percent in 2021, and the North American (U.S., Canada, and Mexico) rate was 37.8 percent, down slightly from 38.4 percent in 2021.
  • 2022 reports a healthy 15 percent growth in recycled content used in U.S. bottles, which consumed 870 million pounds of rPET.
  • Bottles continue to be the dominant end market segment for rPET, by an even more significant margin in 2022. 
  • Significant increases in PET collection would be needed to match the recycled content demands of the future. To reach a widely quoted target for rPET content – 25 percent by 2025 – in all U.S. bottles, PET recyclers would need 1.75 billion pounds of collected PET or 85 percent more collection than in 2022. To achieve 50 percent recycled content by 2030 in U.S. bottles, 3.87 billion pounds of postconsumer PET feedstock would be required, which is more than three times the weight collected in 2022. 

In terms of PET thermoform innovation and recovery, the report shows:

  • The use of recyclate from postconsumer PET thermoforms, while a small segment of total resin usage in the thermoform market, increased by 88 percent compared to 2021.
  • There is a need for more collection and end markets willing to use this feedstock to build momentum for thermoform circularity. 
  • In 2022 PET thermoforms used an average of 12 percent postconsumer rPET content. This shift signals a slow but steady industry-wide progression towards integrating more recycled content into thermoform manufacturing. 

"Our NAPCOR team goes above and beyond to ensure consumers understand recycling efforts and the impact it has on our planet," says Stewart. "Our analyses of postconsumer PET bottles, the PET thermoform market, and supply chains for virgin and recycled PET detail important data needed to inform policy and industry developments toward PET circularity."

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