Recovery of post-consumer film in 2013 rose to new heights, while China's Green Fence largely kept non-bottle rigid plastics at home, according to a pair of reports from the American Chemistry Council.
Released at the 2015 Plastics Recycling Conference in Dallas this week, ACC's seventh annual "National Postconsumer Plastics Bag & Film Recycling Report" points to an 11 percent increase in film recycling during 2013. The report was authored by Moore Recycling Associates.
"We are pleased to see such strong growth in the recycling of polyethylene wraps," Steve Russell, vice president of ACC's Plastics Department said in a release. "These increases highlight the critical role that grocers, retailers and other businesses play in collecting this valuable material."
All told, 1.14 billion pounds of film was reported recycled in 2013, with 58 percent sent abroad and the remaining 42 percent of that total sent to end users in the U.S. and Canada. While China's Green Fence "had a dramatic effect on the demand for contaminated film," the report states demand for higher value film "continued to see strong demand from both domestic and export buyers" in 2013.
Recycling of commercial clear film accounted for just about half of U.S. film recycling – 516 million pounds – and grew over 2012 levels by 10 percent. Recycling of commercial mixed color film also grew, reaching 236 million pounds (up 51 percent).
Mixed film recycling, a category that includes plastic carryout and grocery bags collected at retail and grocery locations, accounted for about a quarter of the overall recovery activity, reaching nearly 248 million pounds and increasing by 37 percent. Recycling of curbside film fell by 71 percent in 2013 and totaled just over 8 million pounds, the report states.
Nina Butler, managing director at Moore Recycling Associates, says more research needs to be done before assuming there's a correlation between increased mixed film recycling and falling curbside film recycling.
"Project plans are underway to study the impact of education on, not only the retail stream, but the curbside stream in two communities," Butler told Plastics Recycling Update. "While it's likely that instructing consumers to recycle their film packaging through retail programs is leading to less in the curbside stream, we need data to support such conclusions."
The Moore-conducted and authored "National Postconsumer Non-Bottle Rigid Plastic Recycling Report," meanwhile, suggests China's crackdown on the quality of imported material kept non-bottle rigid recycling figures from growing.
According to the report, recycling of non-bottle rigid plastics fell by 1 percent in 2013, coming in at just over 1 billion pounds.
"The slight year-over-year decrease is most likely attributable to China's Green Fence effort," the report reads. Exports were down 25 percent for the year.
The silver lining, however, is that domestic reclamation continued to grow. In 2013, 67 percent of recycled non-bottle rigid plastics was purchased for use by the U.S. or Canada, compared with 57 percent in 2012 and just 37 percent in 2007, the first year ACC began publishing its annual report.
PP accounted for the most readily recycled resin in 2013. A total of 396 million pounds of non-bottle rigid PP was reported as recycled during the year. HDPE, with 357 million pounds recycled, and PET, with 85 million pounds recycled, were the second and third most recycled resins, respectively.
Moore points out estimates for film and non-bottle rigid plastics recycling represent "minimum" figures due to the voluntary nature of the group's annual data-gathering efforts. All told, 600 companies were contacted for each study, with 175 providing data.