Market for recycled plastics will keep growing

A growing emphasis on sustainability in packaging will help drive up demand for post-consumer recycled plastics, according to a study published by the Freedonia Group. The Cleveland-based industry market research firm estimates that U.S. demand will rise 6.5% annually. Other factors pushing gains are advancements in processing and sorting technologies; higher 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. Bottles will remain the leading source of plastic for recycling, accounting for over half of all plastic collected over the next five years, according to the report.

The recycled plastic industry will face some challenges, however. The overall rate of plastic recycling in the U.S. will remain relatively low -- less than 7% of total plastic through 2016. Recycling is minimal in several major markets such as construction and automobiles. Export sales (mostly to China) siphon off a substantial portion of plastic scrap. High levels of contamination in some plastics also reduce the usable amount. As a result, only about half of the plastic collected for recycling makes its way to manufactured products in the U.S. market.

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