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Market for Recycled Plastic

In this article, we look at how Plastic Reprocessing Facilities transform recycled plastic into a sellable product and what the market demand is for recycled plastic.

Recycling is a business. Revenue is generated from selling reprocessed plastic pellets to companies to produce new products. After the plastic is sorted out of mixed waste at Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs), it is baled and sold to Plastic Reprocessing Facilities, where it is turned into a usable product. Let's look at the step-by-step process for reprocessing post-consumer plastic.

Reprocessing post-consumer plastic

  1. Bales of plastic are brought from MRFs and broken down from bales to individual items.
  2. They are then sent to the first washing station, where labels and outside dirt are removed. The plastic products are also manually sorted for contaminations.
  3. After the first wash, the plastic items are ground into flakes.
  4. The flakes are sent for a hot wash which removes any remaining dirt and glue.
  5. The newly clean flakes are dried and metered to an extrusion section that melts, vacuum degasses1, and grinds the flakes to produce food-grade pellets ready to be repurposed into new products.


Selling recycled material

Recycled plastic pellets are bought and sold just like raw materials would be, and prices go up and down depending on supply and demand in the United States and the world.

The pellets from the reprocessing process are sold and can be turned into new products such as carbonated drink bottles, food containers, or fibers for clothing using techniques like blow molding, thermoforming, and spinning.

PET (#1) is the most commonly recycled plastic (at 14.39% of plastic waste). Below we look at a breakdown of selling recycled PET in 2016.

  • The average price of recycled PET in the United States is $ 1.26/kg. Since only 14.39% of plastic waste is PET, a max of only 143.9 kg of 1 ton of plastic waste is recycled in this scenario. Taking into account separation efficiency of optical sorting and manual sorting during PET processing, revenue from recycling 1 ton of plastic waste is $146.75.
  • To calculate the profitability, the total costs per ton of waste need to be subtracted from its revenues. The costs of both MRF and PET processing add up to $ 156.51 per ton of plastic waste, and the revenues of recycling 1 ton of plastic waste are $ 146.75.
  • The average profit from recycling 1 ton of PET waste is − $ 9.76.

In the above scenario, recycled PET needs to be $1.34/kg to be profitable. A number of factors affect the profitability of recycled plastic, including the price of oil (the lower the price of oil, the cheaper it is to produce high-quality products from virgin material), legislation (legislating the use of PCR in products impacts the demand for recycled plastic), and government incentives.


Does the price of oil affect the profitability of recycled plastic?

The price of oil greatly impacts the price of plastic and the profitability of plastic recycling. The lower the price of oil, the less profitable the recycling process becomes and it reduces the costs of producing virgin plastic material.

What items can be made out of recycled plastic?

There is a long list of products that can and do use recycled plastic! Each type of plastic has specific items it can be repurposed into. These products include rugs, plastic toys, shoes, bags, clothing, bottles, and even yoga mats. Always keep your eye out for products that use recycled plastic!

How much plastic is recycled annually?

In 2013, 35.5 million tons of plastic waste was produced. Even at the relatively low recycling rate of 9.2%, 3.27 million tons of plastic waste was neither landfilled or burned, thus not polluting the environment.

How many times can plastic be recycled?

It depends on the type of plastic. However, recycling plastic downgrades its quality so it does have a finite amount of times it can be recycled. On average, a plastic can be down-cycled 2-3 times before it can no longer be used.

How many plastic reprocessing facilities are there in the United States?

There are 193 PRFs in the U.S.

What’s the biggest problem facing plastic recycling?

The end product is always lower quality, creating barriers to the type of product it can be recycled into. This goes for both mechanical and molecular recycling.




We don't just talk the talk, at Smart Plastic we prove everything we say with credible third-party testing. Below you will find the corresponding tests that apply to all our claims.

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