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  • Writer's pictureMandi Strickland

Surprising Stats for U.S. Recycling

I attended the SYFA Spring Conference back in April for the first time. As you can imagine with all of the negative media regarding plastics and micro fibers, there was a lot to discuss.

The first speaker was Alasdair Carmichael from NAPCOR (National Association for PET Container Resources). Alasdair provided some interesting data for the U.S. in regards to recycling.

Bottom line - as a country, we have a lot of work to do.

In 2017, Americans recycled only 29 % of PET packaging introduced into the consumer stream. Compared to 11 other EU countries plus Mexico, we rank 11th. We are behind Spain, but not much better than Greece (28%) and Bulgaria (22%). Germany has the highest recycling rate at 96%.

Across the 28 EU countries, the average recycle rate is 58.2%. Nine of these countries have deposit systems in place and these 9 are in the top 13 ranging from 65.4% to 95.7%.

The US currently has only 10 states with bottle deposit laws that incentivise recycling with rates varying from 5 cents to 10 cents. States with deposit laws are achieving a 70% recycle rate, whereas the remainder of the country is estimated at 20%.

Brands across all industries have made commitments to significantly reducing the use of plastics, reclaiming plastics and recycling a high percentage of what they put into the stream, which is great, but....unless the US improves it's infrastructure for recycling and increases capacity, importing recycled plastic from other low cost countries may become a necessity.

The current reclamation capacity between the US and Canada is only 2.74 billion pounds. The US currently has a mere 23 re-claimers and Canada, 5. (EU countries have 2X's the amount of recycling capacity.)

To keep up with the US domestic demand for recycled plastics (good quality and at a comparable price to virgin), the US must improve the plastic recycling infrastructure and build more reclamation facilities. Many states are currently working to improve their recycling efforts with legislation, but will it be too little to late? Millennials, along with their younger counterparts, Gen X and Gen Z'ers are very motivated to save the planet, here's hoping they succeed!

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