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U.S. recyclers recovered over 5 billion pounds of post-consumer plastic in 2022

A bin full of plastic flakes
North American reclaimers acquired 93.7 percent of plastic recovered for recycling in the U.S. while exports overseas fell to 6.3 percent. Adobe Stock Images

Recyclers recovered just over five billion pounds of post-consumer plastic for recycling in the United States (U.S.) in 2022 with the vast majority staying in North America to be processed and remanufactured into new products, according to new data released today by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), ISRI, and the U.S. Plastics Pact. Prepared and based on surveys conducted by Stina Inc. and the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR), the 2022 U.S. Post-consumer Plastic Recycling Data Dashboard details U.S. sourced post-consumer plastic recovered for recycling.

North American reclaimers acquired 93.7 percent of plastic recovered for recycling in the U.S. while exports overseas fell to 6.3 percent. Although total volumes recovered were down by 1.4 percent (71.2 million pounds), U.S. reclaimers acquired 21.4 million pounds more U.S. sourced post-consumer plastic over 2021, for 4,307.8 million pounds or 85.9 percent of the total.

The 2022 data shows that the five billion pounds of plastic recovered in 2022 include bottles (2,784 million pounds, 55.5 percent of total); non-bottle rigids (1,111.8 million pounds, 22.2 percent of total), film (1,110.3 million pounds, 22.1 percent of total) and "other plastics" (11 million pounds, 0.2 percent of total).

While the volumes reported as recovered for recycling for non-bottle rigids and film plastics held steady or increased in 2022, as compared to 2021, the volumes in bottles and other plastics decreased.

Non-bottle rigid plastic volumes reported increased by 40.8 million pounds, due to an 88.4 million pound increase by North American markets offset by a 47.5 million pound decrease in export to overseas markets. This increased the percentage of non-bottle rigid plastic staying in North America to 93.2 percent, up from 88.5 percent in 2021. Most of this increase was due to increased PP recovery reported, both from commingled/other collections (i.e., curbside collection or drop off) and from commercial source-separated or special collection streams. Bottles had the largest decrease of 107.1 million pounds with a decline across all bottle categories. Film had a slight increase overall with some large increases and decreases in individual categories.

"The report reflects what was happening in the manufacturing sector and broader economy during 2022," said ISRI President Robin Wiener. "Inflation added pressure on consumer goods and markets using recycled plastic, which led to a contractionary period, as measured by Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI). Less consumer consumption led to less manufacturing and ultimately lower collection volume for certain products. It is encouraging that U.S. reclaimers processed 21.4 million more pounds in 2022 than the previous year."

"This data is an important benchmark for our industry, finding North American recyclers kept over five billion pounds of plastic out of landfills in 2022," said APR President and CEO Steve Alexander. "We know we can grow these numbers. APR's recycler members have the capacity to recycle more material today if they could just get more supply through collection programs. At the same time, the proliferation of new, inexpensive virgin plastic often undermines the demand for recycled materials. We need state and federal policies that ensure minimum recycled content standards for recycled content to advance circularity for plastic."

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