Competition for Empty Plastic Bottles Is Heating Up

Recycled PET now costs more than virgin plastic
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 9, 2021 3:31 PM CST
World's Latest Shortage: Empty Plastic Bottles
These are becoming a hot commodity.   (Getty Images/artisteer)

Companies in the US and worldwide are facing a major shortage of something that often ends up in the trash: empty plastic bottles. With governments including those of California and Washington state introducing mandatory recycled content quotas for some items and major companies bringing in voluntary targets, producers are having a hard time getting their hands on enough previously used plastic, the Wall Street Journal reports. In the US, the problem is especially severe because of low recycling rates—only around 30% of plastic bottles in the US are recycled, compared to a European average of almost two-thirds, according to market intelligence firm Independent Commodity Intelligence Services.

With competition heating up, the price of recycled PET plastic rose above the price of virgin PET around 18 months ago, according to the National Association for PET Container Resources. In the US, food grade recycled PET is now $1 a pound, up from 64 cents early last year. In California, plastic bottles will have to contain 15% recycled content as of Jan. 1 next year, which will rise to 25% in 2025 and 50% in 2030, per Beverage Daily. The recycled plastic is being sought by numerous industries, including the fashion industry, which hasn't mastered recycling polyester to create sustainable collections, the Journal notes. (This lab is working on a "super-enzyme" that feasts on plastic.)

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