Survey shows high recycling rate for post-industrial plastics

A glimpse into how several companies handle their post-industrial plastic waste is producing some rather dramatic recycling numbers.

A new report by the Society for the Plastics Industry Inc. shows that nearly 90 percent of all plastic manufacturing scrap is recycled or recovered for energy at companies who took part in SPI’s membership survey on the issue.

While numbers have been developed and refined over the years on the post-consumer side of plastics recycling, the survey is an attempt by SPI to gain a better understand of the recycling rates and habits in the post-industrial sector.

pyrolysisplantA total of 27 material suppliers, plastic processors and brand owners submitted information to SPI for a response rate of 12.9 percent for the web-based survey. Those who responded generated and handled 2.3 billion pounds of post-industrial material, including 2 billion pounds that were recycled.

The survey asked respondents about the amount of post-industrial scrap generated in the U.S. that was handled at their facility in 2013. The 2014 SPI Recycling Report found that among plastics materials suppliers, plastics processors and brand owners, respondents reported generating and handling 2.3 billion pounds of post-industrial material, of which 2.0 billion pounds were recycled.

While the response rate leaves room for growth, said Kim Holmes, senior director of recycling and diversion at SPI, it is just about double that of the previous survey.

“We really wanted a better understand of how much scrap is being generated and how that scrap is being managed,” Holmes said after the conclusion of SPI’s Recycling Tech Summit in Dallas Feb. 23.

“I think the general assumption has always been that post-industrial material is largely recovered because it’s valuable material. But we really didn’t have the data to back up that general understanding and certainly not with any sort of recovery number or measurement of that behavior,” Holmes said.

“This is the first time that we’re beginning to really understand from a data perspective what that recovery looks like,” she said.

Increased participation in the survey this year gives Holmes hope that more and more companies will participate in future survey efforts after they have seen the value of the latest results.

“The response rates aren’t where we want them to be. We’re really beginning to get snapshots. We can’t draw sweeping inferences about the industry just yet,” the recycling official said.

Even Holmes said she was surprised by just how large the recycling rate is among the survey participants.

“I certainly expected at least three quarters of the material to be recovered. And that’s mainly based on the fact that I talk to our members, and I felt I had a pretty good sense of how they are handling material,” she said.

“I understand the magnitude of their operations and their capabilities,” she said. “I was pretty confident we were going to see high numbers, but certainly 90 percent, that exceeds expectations,” Holmes said.

“Lots of opportunities remain to grow participation in this report. While participation amongst generators was lower than hoped, readers will see that significant volumes were accounted for in this survey, and these numbers are likely just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. SPI will continue to work to unveil the billions of pounds of scrap plastics being generated and diverted in the product manufacturing process,” the report states.

SPI also took the opportunity to survey independent recyclers among the trade group’s membership, and 26 companies took part for a 12.5 percent response rate.

That group, which includes brokers, toll service providers, compounders of recycled material and “others offering value-added services for these materials” reported handling 95.3 billion pounds of post-industrial scrap plastics, the report indicates.

That total, however, could include the counting of the same material more than once as it passed through different hands, SPI cautioned. But the total still provides an idea of just how large the recycling industry is in North America, Holmes said.

The hope is that the numbers will be further refined in the years to come as more companies participate in the survey.

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