Technological watch

North American plastic recycling volumes highlight need for immediate solutions

The 2020 U.S. Post-consumer Plastic Recycling Data Report released today highlights that like most industries, plastics recycling faced significant challenges through the COVID-19 Pandemic. Major disruptions in collection, transportation and staffing shortages, as well as supply chain issues impacted the supply of material available for recycling. Despite those challenges, the trend of more U.S. sourced post-consumer plastics acquired for use by reclaimers in North America continues. Of the post-consumer plastics sourced in the U.S., only 8% was exported overseas.

Sponsored by the Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR), the Foundation for Plastic Recycling, The Recycling Partnership, and the U.S. Plastics Pact, the 2020 U.S. Post-consumer Plastic Recycling Data Report, by Stina inc., is based on surveys by Stina Inc. and the National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR). The report presents the findings of the major post-consumer plastic categories recovered for recycling, including Bottles, Non-bottle Rigid Plastics, Film, and Other Plastics.

“We need more supply. Our industry faces significant challenges that require immediate solutions. We need to focus our efforts on technologies that are up and running today. Mechanical recyclers have the capacity to process more material but lack the supply to meet the current demand for post-consumer resin (PCR),” stated Steve Alexander, APR President & CEO. “Expanding and streamlining recycling collection programs, less confusion with labelling, and reducing contamination through design for recyclability should be key priorities.”

In 2020, a total of 4,803.8 million pounds of post-consumer plastics sourced in the U.S. were recovered for recycling, down 5.7% compared to 2019. Bottles, Non-bottle Rigids, and Other Plastics (excluding foam) categories all saw declines in the amount of material recovered for recycling in 2020, with Film collection up by just under one percent. In aggregate, recycling of Bottles, Non-bottle Rigid Plastics, Film, and Other Plastics declined by 290 million pounds in 2020, compared to 2019.

North American reclaimers acquired 97% of the 2,744 million pounds of bottles recovered for recycling in the U.S. in 2020, a 24.6 million pound decrease over 2019. PET and HDPE bottles made up 98.8% of this total recovery at 64.4% and 34.4%, respectively. The combined bottle recycling rate was 27.2%, down from 28.7% in 2019, with the PET bottle recycling rate at 27.1% and HDPE at

28.8%. Bottles continued to make up most of the plastic recovered for recycling at 57.1%. Non-bottle Rigids accounted for 22%, Film at 20.5%, and Other Plastics made up the remainder at 0.3%.

“The 2020 U.S. Post-consumer Plastic Recycling Data Report shows that we need investment in the U.S. recycling system to boost the recycling rate for all materials, including plastics,” said Keefe Harrison, CEO of The Recycling Partnership. “As outlined in our Paying it Forward Report, we can quickly change U.S. recycling rates by making sure that the 40 million American households who currently lack equitable recycling access get it and educating them to put the right thing into the bin. Scaling these smart solutions pays returns for the environment and the economy.”

The Non-bottle Rigids category declined by 206.1 million pounds in 2020. Most of the non-bottle rigid plastic recovered for recycling was segregated by resin at 81.4%, with mixed resin rigid material, including that sourced as mixed resin rigid bales and electronic scrap plastic, making up the remaining 18.6%. HDPE and PP made up roughly 75% of the non-bottle rigid plastic recycled, at 41.1% and 34.7%, respectively. North American buyers continue to acquire the majority (89%) of U.S. sourced non-bottle rigid plastic recovered for recycling.

Compared to 2019, post-consumer recovery in the Film category increased by eight million pounds, reflecting increases in PE Mixed Color and PE Agricultural Films subcategories, and drops in PE Clear Film, PE Retail Bags, and Other Film.

“These data insights are critical to transparency and point to the need for greater supply of PCR for companies to meet the U.S. Plastics Pact’s 2025 Targets,” added Emily Tipaldo, Executive Director of the U.S. Plastics Pact. “Adherence to the APR Design┬« Guide for Plastics Recyclability and the elimination of contaminants in the stream will improve the quality and quantity of what is reclaimed for recycling.”

Click here for access to the data dashboard and the full data report.

About The Association of Plastic RecyclersThe Association of Plastic Recyclers (APR) is The Voice of Plastics Recycling®. As the international trade association representing the plastics recycling industry, membership includes independent recycling companies of all sizes, processing numerous resins, as well as consumer product companies, equipment manufacturers, testing laboratories, organizations, and others committed to the success of plastics recycling. APR advocates the recycling of all plastics.

About the Foundation for Plastic RecyclingThe Foundation for Plastic Recycling works to enhance and expand plastics recycling through education, research, technical assistance, and innovation to address the role of plastics in the Circular Economy. The Foundation for Plastic Recycling is unique for its commitment to enhancing and expanding plastics recycling efforts in order to garner economic and environmental benefits.

About U.S. Plastics PactThe U.S. Plastics Pact brings together businesses, not-for-profit organizations, government agencies, and research institutions that work together toward a common vision of a circular economy for plastics, as outlined by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Initiative. This vision aims to ensure that plastics never become waste by eliminating the plastics we don’t need, innovating to ensure that the plastics we do need are reusable, recyclable, or compostable, and circulating all the plastic items we use to keep them in the economy and out of the environment.

About The Recycling PartnershipThe Recycling Partnership is solving for circularity by mobilizing people, data, and solutions across the value chain to unlock the environmental and economic benefits of recycling and a circular economy. They work with communities to transform recycling programs; partner with companies to achieve packaging circularity, increase access to recycled materials and meet sustainability commitments; and work with government to develop policy to address the systemic needs of our residential recycling system and advance a circular economy. They foster public-private partnerships and drive positive change at every step of the recycling and circularity process.

About Stina IncStina Inc, previously d.b.a. More Recycling, is a mission-based research and technology company. that has conducted the annual plastic recycling study for over 10 years for the United States and Canada. Confidentiality and neutrality are the cornerstones to this research, analysis, and reporting. Stina also supports the recycling industry with online tools such as and Buy Recycled Products Directory, which can be found on

Publication date: 05/05/2022

Author: Marion Kupfer

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This project has been co-funded with the support of the LIFE financial instrument of the European Union [LIFE17 ENV/ES/000438] Life programme

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Last update: 2022-01-31