Plastics Recycling

More than 80 percent of U.S. households have access to a plastics recycling program, be it curbside collection or a community drop-off center, and opportunities to recycle more of the plastics we use continue to grow. However, in most areas the demand for recycled plastics exceeds the available supply.

In recent years, the number of U.S. plastics recycling businesses has nearly tripled. Today, more than 1,800 businesses are involved in recycling post-consumer plastics.

Plastic Bags

Plastic grocery bags are fully recyclable and the number of recycling programs is increasing steadily.

  • In 2011, the recycling of plastic bags and product wraps topped 1 billion pounds, a 55% increase over 2005.
  • According to the EPA, about 13 percent of plastic bags and wraps were recycled in 2009.
  • In recent years, many grocers and retailers (like Wal-Mart, Target and Lowe's) have introduced plastic bag collection programs. Today there are more than 15,000 bins in retail locations nationwide.
  • Plastic bags are recycled into many useful products, including durable backyard decks, home building products, shopping carts and, of course, new bags.

In addition, a national survey shows that more than 90% of Americans reuse their plastic bags to line their trash can, clean up after their dogs, and tote gym clothes, among many other uses. Learn more about recycling plastic bags and wraps at grocery stores.

Plastic Bottles

When heavier glass, metal or reusable bottles don't make sense, plastic beverage bottles play a helpful role. They're clean, sanitary, shatter resistant, convenient and help keep us and our families hydrated. And because they are lighter, they require less energy to transport and also require less energy to recycle.

Plastic bottles for water, soda, beer—as well as food, detergents and other products—are among the most recycled products in the U.S. More of them have landed in recycle bins every year since 1990. We'd like consumers to do even more to get bottles into the recycling bin. Here's a look at how far we've come to date:

  • In 2011, the recycling of plastic bottles reached a record high of 2.6 billion pounds.
  • The pounds of post-consumer plastic bottles collected and recycled in the United States has grown every year since 1990.
  • The recycling rate for plastic bottles has grown to 29 percent.
  • Recycled plastic bottles are used to make hundreds of everyday products, ranging from fleece jackets and carpeting to detergent bottles and lumber for outdoor decking.

TIP: Check the NeckSM – "bottle" is a container that has a neck or an opening that is smaller than its base. For recycling purposes, jars are considered bottles and are accepted in programs that collect bottles. Remember to check beyond the kitchen (bathrooms, storage closets, etc.) for plastic bottles you can recycle and when you empty a bottle away from home, don't forget to bring it back to the bin. And don’t forget to recycle your caps by twisting them on before you toss your bottle into the bin. 

Plastic Containers (non-bottles)

A growing number of communities are recycling other types of plastic containers, such as tubs, trays and lids. Of the 100 largest cities in the United States, the number recycling rigid plastics beyond just bottles grew from 29 in 2008 to 70 today, and that number continues to rise. More than 930 million pounds of these materials were recycled in 2011, an increase of 187 percent since 2007. ACC encourages recycling programs to include these products to divert this valuable resource from the waste and litter streams. In 2010, Connecticut announced that more than sixty communities plan to begin collecting plastic containers in addition to bottles, and New York City passed legislation to expand plastics recycling to include more plastic containers.

Recycling Plastics is Not the Only Answer

Absolutely true.

Plastics are useful, energy efficient materials, and we should all be mindful about the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling. With respect to plastic bags, it's now easier than ever for all of us to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Nearly every major grocer sells inexpensive reusable bags, so shoppers can bring their own bags again and again. Ninety percent of consumers reuse plastic grocery bags at home for things like doggy duty, trash can liners and totes for kids' lunches. With recycling programs now spanning the country, consumers can return leftover plastic bags and numerous plastic wraps to most large grocery and retail stores for recycling.

To learn more about how to reduce, reuse and recycle, click here.

For more information on the essential role plastics and chemical products play in our live and the environment, please visit: