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US recycles more PET but trade group questions if ‘voluntary’ system can generate sufficient volumes

By Rory Harrington , 18-Oct-2011

The amount of Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) bottles recycled in the US rose slightly to 29% in 2010 – but the industry body NAPCOR cautioned that the rate would need to climb hugely by 2013 to meet likely rPET demand.

A decline in sales of PET bottles and jars seen during 2008 and 2009 in the US was reversed last year – with a “rebound more robust than many anticipated”, said a report from the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR).

The bounce was felt across all beverage sectors, with juice ready-to-drink teas spearheading the upward trend with double digit growth.

Volumes

The group said the total weight of PET bottles and jars available in the US for recycling reached 5.3bn pounds (2.4bn kg). This reflects the total amount of PET bottle resin used by US bottle manufacturers from US, foreign, and recycled sources, - less scrap generated and not reused, exported bottles and pre-forms, and bottles less than eight ounces in size.

The total amount of PET bottles collected amounted to 1.557 million pounds (708m kg) – or 295. This is an increase of 113m pounds (51m kg) – thanks in part to newly implemented curbside programmers, the number of bottles available and greater commercial recycling capacity.

However, greater lightweighting of bottles and a 5.3m pound drop in bottle collection in California curbed progress somewhat.

The number of reclamation plants rose from 18 to 19 and capacity increased from 1.247bn pounds to 1.465bn pounds.

Increase in converter rates

The study details that rPET use in primary conversion processes for the US and Canada rose by 7% in 2010 to just over 1m pounds. This, combined with 68m pounds of secondary PET products, meant the 1.07m pound total was the higher conversion figure to date.

Demand last year was particularly strong from packaging converters – with rPET use in bottles rising by 6m pounds and its overall use in food and beverage packaging climbing by 13m pounds.

“A marked surge in RPET use for packaging applications was seen in the sheet/thermoformed category where a 23% increase over 2009 volumes pushed total usage to 195m pounds,” said NAPCOR.

The association said forecasts of reclamation capacity meeting total PET collection were overly optimistic but stressed that additional investment had been made.

The primary driver of these investments is the short supply of rPET flake and pellet,” said the body. “This has prompted end users that anticipate a long-term need for rPET supply to either quietly back new merchant reclaimers, or to do it themselves, operating on the premise that they have a better chance of procuring and processing bales than they do chasing supply of merchant flake.”

The association estimated that in order to meet RPET demand from publicly announced brand owner recycled content commitments, as well as current and projected demand from all other RPET applications, the PET bottle recycling rate would need to be at least 48% by 2013.

The report questions whether the current approach to stimulating growth in the rPET sector is viable to meet future demands.

“Up to this point, the primary concerns of this industry – collection, Design for Recycling principles, and use of recycled content – have been addressed voluntarily and inconsistently,” it said. “The question is whether that sort of approach can support the current infrastructure and allow for the growth that will be necessary to make this a sustainable industry.”