On Monday, Nov. 15, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the 2021 National Recycling Strategy on ways to build a circular economy through the strengthening of the U.S. recycling system. The strategy’s goals are to stimulate recycling through demand growth, lower contamination and increased collections. The agency also seeks to reduce domestic and international climate impacts and social inequities associated with natural resource extraction and processing; reduce environmental justice (EJ) disparities and increase equitable access; reduce ecosystem loss and destruction; and to stimulate economic development related to the circular economy.
The strategy builds on the collaborative efforts by stakeholders across the recycling system, including ISRI, that began under the 2019 National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System. Participants included representatives from federal, local, state, and tribal governments; the recycling industry; non-profits; manufacturers; and product brands. All the signing organizations pledged to work together to identify specific actions to address the challenges and opportunities facing the U.S. recycling system.
The final strategy contains five main objectives: improve markets for recycling commodities; increase collection and improve materials management infrastructure; reduce contamination in the recycled materials stream; enhance policies and programs to support circularity; and standardize measurement and increase data collection. The strategy also focuses on both domestic and international and features an enhanced focus on materials management and climate change.
“The strategy should be seen as a beginning,” says Dr. Carlton Waterhouse, deputy assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management. Waterhouse provided details about the strategy’s goals and objectives to attendees of ISRI’s Annual State of the Recycling Briefing on America Recycles Day. “The strategy is a first step toward an alternative set of policies and practices that are going to help us comprehensively address some of the biggest environmental challenges in front of us.”
The strategy identifies actions needed by federal and local governments, the private sector, and others to create a more effective recycling system to help the U.S. achieve the national recycling goal to increase the recycling rate to 50% by 2030. “With a circular economy model you reduce materials used, redesign materials and products to be less resource intensive, and recapture waste as a resource to use in manufacturing new materials and products,” Dr. Waterhouse explains. “We’re talking about an economy that reduces our overall waste by transforming what used to be waste into valuable resources and acknowledge the natural process of how things work in our ecosystem.”
In his remarks, Dr. Waterhouse discussed the importance of the $1 trillion infrastructure bill and the historic investment in recycling and solid waste management including the $75 million RECYCLE Act, $150 million for critical mineral and battery recycling, and $100 million for the EPA’s pollution-prevention program. “The infrastructure investments will help communities begin to modernize their local waste management systems through technology, which will increase opportunities to reduce, reuse, and compost, and expand access to recycling across the country,” he notes. “The funding will also provide state and local governments with funding to improve education and outreach on how to properly recycle and expand opportunities for recycling.”
ISRI praises the strategy as forward-thinking and achievable, in line with its own long-time efforts to demonstrate recycling’s essential role in the fight against climate change, in delivering a sustainable and resilient infrastructure, and to increase equitable access to the environmental and economic benefits recycling contributes to the nation.
“This strategy incorporates all the components required for a successful recycling ecosystem, championing initiatives that ISRI has implemented for many years,” says ISRI President Robin Wiener. “It notes that recycling is a part—or one of the tools—of a successful material management infrastructure, and it prioritizes both market demand for recycled commodities and the critical importance of designing products for recyclability. We could not agree more.”
ISRI intends to lead actions in collaboration with the EPA to meet the strategy’s objectives. “These actions will build on ISRI’s efforts to grow demand for recycled commodities—such as in the recently enacted infrastructure package, recognize manufacturers with ISRI’s Design for Recycling® award, and enhance public awareness about what is and is not recyclable,” says Adina Renee Adler, ISRI’s vice president of advocacy.
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