Research Outline

Household Plastics Recycling Industry


To have a broad understanding of the market size and key players in the household plastics recycling industry in the United States. An ideal response would include the names of the top producers of US consumer plastics [such as water and soft drink bottles, shampoo bottles, cleaner bottles for major CPG companies], the total estimated volume/weight of used plastics collected for recycling across the United States as a whole and by state or major metropolitan area if available from consumers and from businesses/industry. Additionally, to understand what happens to these plastics that were collected to be recycled, the percentage (by weight) that is recycled into new plastic products, the percentage (by weight) that ends up in US landfills, the percentage (by weight) that is incinerated in the US, the percentage (by weight) that is exported for recycling offshore, and the impact on greenhouse gas emissions (mainly CO2) of plastics not getting recycled, or being incinerated. Finally, to have a collection of 10-20 recent media articles pointing to the problems with plastics not getting recycled, and the impact on the environment.

Early Findings

Top Producers of US Consumer Plastics

  • The top plastic bottle manufacturer and company in the US is Loews Corporation, followed by Amcor Plc, Berry Global Group Inc., Plastipak Holdings Inc., and Graham Packaging Company. This is ranked by annual sales.
  • The top plastic packaging companies in the US are Reynolds, Amcor, Sealed Air, Bemis Company, the RPC Group, Alpla, Plastipak, Constantia, Coveris, and Berry Global. This is ranked by annual sales.

Volume of Plastics In Waste

  • The containers and packaging category of municipal solid waste had the most plastic tonnage, with over 14.5 million tons in 2018.
  • Plastics generation was 35.7 million tons in 2018, accounting for 12.2% of waste.

What Happens to Plastic Waste

  • 8.5% of plastic waste, or 3 million tons, was recycled in 2018. The recycling rate for PET bottles and jars was higher, at 26.8% and the rate for HDPE bottles was 29.3%.
  • 5.6 million tons of plastic was combusted in 2018. This is 16.3% of all waste combusted.
  • 27 million tons of plastic was taken to landfills, 18.5% of all the waste that went to landfills.
  • Only 56% of previously exported plastic waste is now being accepted due to China's ban. This means the equivalent of 19,000 shipping containers of plastic per month is no longer being exported. This means about 24,000 shipping containers of plastic are being exported each month.
  • In 2019, the US exported 436 million kg of plastic waste and continues to export 30 million kg each month.

Impact on Greenhouse Gas Emissions

  • In 2013, 87.2 million tons of waste in the US was recycled, which prevented 186 million tons of greenhouse gases from polluting the atmosphere. This includes all waste, not just plastic.
  • At least 30% of carbon emissions for producing and manufacturing plastics could be saved by recycling. This could mean 30 to 150 million tons of CO2 being saved worldwide by recycling plastic.


  • The top producers, based on annual revenue, of plastic bottles and plastic packaging were provided. It was difficult to identify the volume of plastic produced by these companies. Plastic bottles and packaging were chosen as common examples of US consumer plastics.
  • The data on plastic waste was found on the EPA website, which gave figures from 2018. This was chosen as an official government website with accurate data.
  • The estimated volume of plastic waste did not seem to be specified for the plastic collected for recycling as opposed to plastic in any waste. Additionally, the source of the plastic (from consumers as opposed to businesses or industry) did not seem to be specified.
  • The impact on greenhouse gas emissions of specifically plastics in the US not getting recycled couldn't be easily identified, but figures for waste in the US in general and recycling plastics worldwide were provided.
  • There was not enough time in the initial research to identify recent media articles about the problems with plastics not getting recycled. However, this is a well-discussed topic that will have enough suitable articles for further research.