Contrary to what you might have seen in the press recently, plastics recycling is continuing to make real progress. Steve Alexander of the Association of Plastics Recyclers, Steve Sikra of the Procter & Gamble Company, and I recently joined forces to set the record straight.
A lot of our recent progress can be attributed to collaboration among plastics makers, brand owners, retailers and recyclers, as we write in a joint op-ed, “Plastics Recycling is Working: Here’s Why“:
As a nation, the United States is making strong and steady progress in recycling our most common plastics — Americans have recycled more plastics each year than the prior year for the last two and a half decades.
Take plastic bottles: In 2014, U.S. consumers recycled a record high of more than 3 billion pounds of plastic bottles — generating an estimated $730 million in revenue from selling bales of plastic material — and the recycling rate climbed to an all-time high of 32 percent . And unlike the early days, consumers today are advised to twist caps on before tossing their empty bottles in the bin, because recyclers want the caps too.
That’s all good news, but some of the most dramatic gains are happening in flexible polyethylene packaging and with other plastic containers. Between 2005 and 2013, the recycling of flexible plastic film (bags and wraps) jumped nearly 75 percent to reach more than 1 billion pounds, and the recycling rate grew to 17 percent. To achieve these increases, groups like ours came together to come up with innovative solutions.