On July 30, 2021, the industry group Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) published an updated report on the availability of residential recycling facilities in the United States, and the packaging materials they accept (as of immediately before the COVID-19 pandemic). The SPC assessed 1,950 communities across all 50 states and evaluated whether residents of the community had access to curbside or drop-off recycling. If the community had recycling program(s), SPC analyzed which of 32 assessed packaging materials could be recycled at that location. The SPC found that since their last report in 2016, fewer Americans have access to curbside or drop-off recycling programs and that the availability of residential recycling facilities for all packaging material types has declined. According to the report, packaging materials with the highest likelihood of being accepted through a residential recycling program were steel food cans (87%), aluminum beverage cans (with deposit 90%, without deposit 89%), corrugated boxes (88%), paperboard boxes (84%), polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles (beverage bottles with deposit 88%, other PET bottles without deposit 87%), and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bottles (87%). Glass was accepted at 75% of facilities. At the other end of the spectrum, aluminum foil (37%) and polystyrene (PS) (45%) had the fewest recycling options.
The SPC also found that single family homes had more access to recycling programs than multi-family homes (97% versus 77%). The authors note, “recycling rate goals are unlikely to be met without the participation of multi-unit dwellers (who disproportionately have access to only drop off recycling programs).” Overall, the SPC report “provides important insight into the state of recycling access across the United States pre-pandemic.”
Multiple pieces of federal legislation have been introduced in the last year that are meant to support the recycling infrastructure in the United States (FPF reported here and here). Other reports suggest that despite the apparent loss of recycling facilities since the SPC’s first report in 2016, public awareness around recycling has increased (FPF reported here and here). The Food Packaging Forum fact sheets specifically address the recycling of the five most-used food packaging materials. For each packaging type, the fact sheets summarize the recyclability and associated safety concerns, as well as existing recycling processes.
SPC (July 30, 2021). “SPC Releases Comprehensive Update of its Centralized Availability of Recycling Study.”