US demand for post-consumer recycled plastic is forecast to rise 6.5% per year to 3.5 billion pounds in 2016. Gains will be driven by a number of factors, including a growing emphasis on sustainability among packaging and consumer product manufacturers, advancements in processing and sorting technologies allowing a wider variety of plastic to be recycled into high quality resins and an improved collection infrastructure which raises the plastic recycling rate. Continued support by federal, state and local governments for recycling efforts will also provide a significant boost to recycled plastic collection, processing, and demand. Packaging will continue to be the leading market for recycled plastic in 2016. Bottles will remain the leading source of plastic for recycling, accounting for over half of all plastic collected in 2016. These and other trends are presented in Recycled Plastics,a new study from The Freedonia Group, Inc. (www.fredoniagroup.com), a Cleveland-based industry market research firm.
The overall rate of plastic recycling in the US will remain relatively low — less than 7% of total plastic demand in 2016 — as the industry faces a number of challenges. Recycling is minimal in several major plastic markets, including construction products, motor vehicles (other than batteries) and packaging film, due to a lack of collection capability or economical processing. Export sales (mostly to China) siphon off a substantial portion of plastic scrap, and much of what is processed domestically has high levels of contamination. As a result, only about half of the plastic collected for recycling makes its way to manufactured products in the US market.
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high density polyethylene (HDPE) were the two leading resins used in recycled plastic products in 2011, accounting for over 70 percent of demand. While PET will see above average gains in demand, fueled by rising recycled content in beverage bottles and thermoformed containers, subpar increases in HDPE collection will limit the availability of recycled resin. The most rapid growth is forecast for recycled low density polyethylene, which will benefit from a rebound in the construction market. Recycled polypropylene will also see healthy gains in demand as collection volumes increase and processing techniques improve the quality of the resin. Rapid growth is expected for smaller volume resins such as nylon and polystyrene, fueled by rising collection of products such as carpet, plastic foam, and consumer electronics for recycling.