Recycled Plastics in Packaging

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This report covers the supply and demand of recycled plastics, specifically with regards to those used to produce packaging materials. Packaging products with recycled content may contain materials collected from office/curbside recycling programs (post-consumer), materials generated after the manufacture of a product but before it reaches the end-user (post-industrial/pre-consumer), and virgin resin materials. Within this report, the total volume of post-consumer recycled plastic going into packaging is analyzed. In addition, information is provided on recycled content levels, which are defined as the total percentage of recovered material in a product.

For the purposes of this study, recycled resin price and value is considered at the pellet level, even though many recycled plastics are sold to end users in flake form.

Sources for scrap and waste plastics covered in this report include:

  • food and beverage bottles
  • rigid plastics and foam (including food containers)
  • carpeting (including rugs) and fiber
  • flexible packaging (including retail bags, trash bags, and film from other packaging products)

Excluded from the scope of this report are:

  • waste primarily made of nylon
  • post-industrial recycled content
  • bioplastics and engineering plastics

Plastic resins covered in this report include:

  • polyethylene terephthalate (PET)
  • high-density polyethylene (HDPE)
  • low-density polyethylene (LDPE) (including LLDPE)
  • polypropylene (PP)
  • polystyrene (PS)

Packaging applications for recycled plastic resin evaluated in the study include:

  • bottles, both those used for food and beverage as well as non-food applications (including hair care products, detergents and other cleaning products, motor oil)
  • rigid plastic packaging products other than bottles, including: 
    • egg cartons
    • expanded polystyrene packaging
    • lids
    • pails
    • plastic cans
    • plastic caps and closures
    • squeeze tubes
    • trays
    • tubs, cups, and bowl
    • flexible packaging (including retail bags, trash bags, and film from other packaging products – food wrap films, food and beverage pouches, plastic film lidding, plastic food bags, vacuum seal packaging, etc.)

Historical data are provided for 2010, 2015, and 2020, with forecasts for 2025 and 2030. The term “demand” refers to “apparent consumption” and is defined as production (also referred to variously as “shipments”, “output”, or “supply”) from a country’s domestic manufacturing facilities plus imports, minus exports. “Demand” is used interchangeably with the terms “market”, “sales”, and “consumption”. Data are presented in millions of pounds and millions of US dollars.

Post-consumer recycled goods are those that have left the manufacturing facility and have been used, even if their final destination is another manufacturing facility. This is in contrast to post-industrial recycled materials, which are directly generated during the manufacturing process. For example, plastic trimmed from rigid packaging on the manufacturing line that is then recycled would be classified as post-industrial recycled content, while the stretch film used to secure the palletized goods that is removed at the beverage manufacturer’s facility would be classified as post-consumer waste. Packaging made from post-industrial recycled waste is excluded from this study.

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