About 2.7 billion pounds of postconsumer plastics are estimated to be recovered in 2004, rising at an average annual growth rate (AAGR) of 4% to more than three-billion pounds in 2009.
More than two-million pounds of plastics were used in new products in 2004, a figure expected to rise at an AAGR of 5% to 2.6 million pounds in 2009.
At present, plastic bottles are the most commonly recycled postconsumer plastic products made from either HDPE or PET.
Although an ever increasing supply of PET bottles is available, their recycling rate has leveled off as large increases in use have outpaced smaller increases in collection.
Plastics are one of the most widely used materials today. They are found in everything from packaging, to textiles, to construction, electronics, and more. New applications continually are emerging, and at some point this material must be disposed of and/or recycled. While there are instances when the recycling of plastics is profitable, there also are cases where the cost to collect, separate, clean and reuse plastic products outweighs, sometimes far outweighs, the economic and environmental benefits of doing so. Nonetheless, recycling is always a consideration.
This BCC study describes existing markets for postconsumer recycled plastics, and identifies and characterizes concentrations of waste materials containing plastics that are potential sources for further recycling.
Some plastic products may be cost-effectively recycled. Several others are potentially viable, but face issues of economies of scale, collection infrastructure, and especially end-use markets that will make their recovery worthwhile. Some types of recycled plastics are experiencing growing demand due to development of new markets, such as wood/fiber plastic composite lumber. Other segments of the waste stream are becoming difficult to dispose of, mainly because of concerns over release of undesirable substances into the environment. Diversion from landfills of such materials presents opportunities for plastics recycling.
SCOPE OF STUDY
The report contains:
- An overview of the manufacture of plastics, the major types of plastics used and how they are disposed of
- An overview of the removal of plastics products from the waste stream for the purpose of physical recycling
- Analysis of existing markets by material source and by resin, with forecasts to 2009
- Analysis of markets for products made with recycled plastics, also with forecasts to 2009
- An overview of government regulations in the U.S. as well as international attitudes, laws and technologies of interest
- Profiles of relevant organizations and companies.
METHODOLOGY AND INFORMATION SOURCES
Information used to describe the concentrations of material available for recycling and to project markets for recycled plastic products in this report is derived from public sources as well as conversations with individuals working in industry. Public sources include EPA, DOE, FDA, and numerous industry trade groups that publish information for public use. Other sources include trade magazines, and reports and papers published by companies, industry groups and individuals. As previously mentioned, comprehensive data on segments of the plastics recycling industry are rarely available. Generalizations and estimates are based on the best, known data.
Laura Sharp was formerly a Research Engineer with the Energy & Environmental Research Center at the University of North Dakota, where she worked on a variety of process development projects. She has published numerous papers, mainly in the areas of coal and waste material conversion via gasification or pyrolysis. She holds B.S. and M.S. degrees in Chemical Engineering.