US Government admits plastic recycling rate has fallen to 5% with China ban contributing


The US Government’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has calculated that the plastic recycling rate in the country had fallen to just 5% in 2019.

A total of 86% of plastics were landfilled, with 9% used in energy from waste facilities.


More plastics were sent to landfill because of low recycling rates, population growth, consumer preference for single-use plastics, and low disposal fees in certain parts of the country. It was further exacerbated by China banning plastic imports at the start of 2018.

The report from NREL suggested that new products need to be developed using plastics that enable easier sorting and collection, plus development of advanced sorting techniques.

In the paper, Quantification and evaluation of plastic waste in the United States, the researchers found that 44 million tonnes of plastic waste was created in the country in 2019. This is higher than the estimate of 32.2 million tonnes from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

NREL senior research analyst Anelia Milbrandt said: “Plastic waste is not just an environmental issue. It’s a waste management issue. It’s also a land use issue because landfills are closing in many areas.

“What do we do with all that waste? It has to go somewhere. I believe local governments and industry developers will see a benefit of this report by providing them information to support decisions.”

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