American Chemistry MattersA Blog of the American Chemistry Council

American Chemistry Matters

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Uncorking our recycling potential: Small steps to take plastics recycling from good to great

Almost exactly one month before America Recycles Day, ACC and the Association of Post-consumer Plastics Recyclers are jointly announcing good news: both the quantity and rate for recycling plastics bottles rose last year in the United States.

Our press release and the full report provide more detail on how American consumers recycled 123 million more pounds of plastic bottles in 2010 than in the prior year (up 5%) and the rate of recycling climbed to just shy of 30%.

Two of the main reasons for this recent increase are the growing availability of away-from-home recycling bins in parks, airports, beaches and other public spaces and growing interest on the part of consumers.

This makes perfect sense. Plastics makers have worked hard to track and improve recycling rates since 1990, and we’ve consistently found that when access meets awareness, people are willing to recycle.

Given what we know about our nation’s growing access to plastics recycling, I’m encouraged by our progress, but want to take this opportunity to point out that we can do even better – a lot better.

A recent study that measured consumers’ access to plastics recycling across the U.S. found that, today, 94 percent of Americans have access to recycle commonly used plastics, and in most cases, this means access to a plastic bottle recycling program. In terms of access, we’ve never been in better shape.

Now, for the awareness part. We at ACC field a lot of questions about recycling plastics, so we see that consumers still have questions about how to recycle their plastic bottles. Here are a few tips that can make it easy to recycle more of your used bottles right in your curbside bin:

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  • Put the cap back on. A recent survey of U.S. recyclers by APR found that recyclers want plastic bottle caps, too.
  • Bring empties with you. When you empty a beverage bottle away-from-home, bring it along until you get to a recycling bin. If you toss it in the trash, a very valuable material just goes to waste in a landfill.
  • Think beyond beverage containers. Most of us know that everyday plastic beverage bottles can be readily recycled. But so can bottles from shampoo and toiletries, laundry detergent and household cleaners, milk jugs, food jars (think peanut butter and mayonnaise) salad dressing, etc. And, of course, put caps back on those, too.


We are very encouraged that at the Federal level, lawmakers like Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) and Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) are looking at ways to boost recycling nationally, and in the meantime, all of us can focus on taking small steps every day that can add up to a big difference.

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