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08-06-2018

Plastic Recycling Rate is Falling in the US

EPA Publishes Environmental Data

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, measures the generation, recycling, composting, combustion with energy recovery and landfilling of plastic materials in municipal solid waste (MSW).

The primary data source on the generation of plastics is the American Chemistry Council. In 2015, plastics generation was 34.5 million tons in the United States, which was 13.1 percent of MSW generation.

EPA used data from the American Chemistry Council and the National Association for PET Container Resources to measure the recycling of plastic. While overall the amount of recycled plastics is relatively small – 3.1 million tons for a 9.1 percent recycling rate in 2015 – the recycling of some specific types of plastic containers is more significant. The recycling rate of PET bottles and jars was 29.9 percent in 2015, and the rate for HDPE natural bottles was 30.3 percent in 2015.

  • The data are from 1960 to 2015, relating to the total number of tons of plastics generated, recycled, composted, combusted with energy recovery and landfilled (© EPA)

    The data are from 1960 to 2015, relating to the total number of tons of plastics generated, recycled, composted, combusted with energy recovery and landfilled. The recycling rate of plastics 2015 has fallen by half a percentage point compared to the previous year (© EPA)

  • 18.9% of the material that goes to landfills is plastic (© EPA)

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The total amount of plastics combusted in MSW in 2015 was 5.4 million tons. This was 15.9 percent of all MSW combusted with energy recovery that year.

In 2015, landfills received 26 million tons of plastic. This was 18.9 percent of all MSW landfilled.

In 2015, about 137.7 million tons of MSW were landfilled. Food was the largest component at about 22 percent. Plastics accounted for about 19 percent, paper and paperboard made up about 13 percent, and rubber, leather and textiles comprised about 11 percent. Other materials accounted for less than 10 percent each.

EPA began collecting and reporting data on the generation and disposition of waste in the United States more than 30 years ago. The Agency uses this information to measure the success of materials management programs across the country and to characterize the national waste stream. EPA refers to trash, or municipal solid waste (MSW), as various items consumers throw away after they are used. These items include bottles and corrugated boxes, food, grass clippings, sofa, computers, tires and refrigerators. However, MSW does not include everything that is landfilled in MSW, or nonhazardous, landfills, such as construction and demolition (C&D) debris, municipal wastewater sludge, and other non-hazardous industrial wastes. While the analysis in Facts and Figures focuses primarily on MSW, EPA has been including estimates of C&D generation and recovery in recent years.

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