America simply does not have enough recycled PET supply or processing capacity to satisfy commitments being made by brand owners to increase recaptured resin content in their bottles, new data shows.
As programme director for the National Association for PET Container Resources, or NAPCOR, Alasdair Carmichael has been looking at the issue for the past year or so.
With a PET recycling rate of a little less than 30% in the United States, and much of that material being used for nonbottle applications, NAPCOR said the numbers just don't add up.
Brand owners, under increasing pressure regarding single-use plastic packaging, are making more and more commitments to use recycled PET for a percentage of their plastic packaging needs.
"We've got a problem and we're not going to be able to meet those commitments easily," Carmichael said.
Just about half of all recycled PET capacity, 48 percent, is dedicated to non-bottle applications such as carpet fiber, strapping and textiles, NAPCOR reports.
Another 46% is dedicated to bottle production, and the remaining 6% is operated by what NAPCOR calls market sellers — processors that provide material for any use.
Even if all remaining 52% all goes to bottles, that still will not be enough.
"We're trying to make the point if we stay as we are, those commitments are not really going to be achievable," Carmichael said. "Given the status quo, we can't get there."
Companies have, for years, been making recycled PET content commitments. But the pace of those promises recently has increased significantly, NAPCOR said.
A flurry of commitments came out earlier this year at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and have continued since. It soon became clear to NAPCOR that market conditions and existing infrastructure will not be adequate to meet the brand owner commitments.
"I don't know if anyone has quite said it like that before," NAPCOR Communications Director Laura Stewart said.
NAPCOR decided to tackle the issue as a way to start educating brand owners about the challenges they face in making recycled-content promises in today's market.