The following article is from the Recycling in the 117th Congress session during ISRI2021. If you would like to watch this session in its entirety, you can still register for ISRI2021 at https://isri2021.org/. This session and others are available to attendees on-demand.
With a new Congress focused on climate and other social and environmental issues, recycling may enjoy a prominent role in 2021. During the Recycling in the 117th Congress session at ISRI2021, the new House Recycling Caucus co-chairs and the existing House and Senate co-chairs outlined their goals for the next two years and beyond. ISRI staff discussed the bipartisan nature of recycling and how the Biden administration’s recent infrastructure proposal provides an opportunity to advocate on behalf of the industry.
“Recycling demonstrates a commitment to leaving behind a better planet for our children and grandchildren,” says Senator Tom Carper (D-D.E.), co-chair of the Recycling Caucus with Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.). Recycling reduces landfill input and preserves limited resources while also creating job opportunities. Recycling is a major source of economic opportunities, and moving initiatives forward requires a team effort, says Senator Boozman. Corporations, manufacturers, legislators, and trade associations should work together to develop solutions for the industry. “Through challenges and adversity, we often see innovation and creative problem-solving. The same can be true for recycling,” he says. In a similar vein, he stresses recycling is an issue that concerns everyone regardless of political affiliation or state.
As co-chairs, the senators spent much time working on behalf of the recycling industry and moving legislation forward. In June 2020, the senators submitted a letter to Senate leadership urging priority access to personal protective equipment (PPE) for the waste and recycling industry. They also introduced bipartisan legislation last summer to expand the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to cover waste and recycling collection services.
Currently, the senators are working on the Recycling and Composting Accountability Act, which has not yet been introduced to Congress. If passed, it would provide valuable data on the U.S. recycling industry, and explore ways to implement a national composting strategy. The bill would also provide definitions on recycling, according to Billy Johnson, ISRI’s chief lobbyist. Providing definitions of recycling terms will allow for more effective and clear conversations between the industry and policymakers, he explains. The new co-chairs of the Recycling Caucus, Representatives David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), are working to raise awareness about recycling and its significant contributions to the economy and the environment.
On March 23, Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Representatives David Joyce (R-Ohio) and Dean Phillips (D-Minn.), reintroduced the RECYCLE Act, to create a new federal grant recycling program through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Making U.S. recycling more effective means improving residential recycling and helping people understand what materials should be recycled and how to do so properly, Senator Portman notes. If passed, the RECYCLE act would create a new program to help educate consumers on residential and community recycling programs. Through increased public awareness, the bill could help lower contamination rates in residential recycling streams and improve the recyclability of materials.
The Biden administration’s recent infrastructure proposal could provide an opportunity to increase the use of recycled materials in mass construction and revitalization projects over the next decade. “The package is really a blueprint of the administration’s priorities,” according to David Eaton, ISRI’s director of government relations. Improving American infrastructure has been a standard goal for every U.S. president and every state and legislative body over the last 30 years. One common thread connecting them is the opportunity to advocate for using recycled materials in the projects, Eaton explains. If passed, the infrastructure package directs the use of more sustainable and innovative materials and to extend small businesses the opportunity to participate in the design, construction, and manufacture of infrastructure part components. All the proposed changes will require massive amounts of material. “These are all areas to advocate for using recycled materials to the fullest extent in construction and revitalization projects and for more material taken out of infrastructure projects to be put back into feedstock,” Eaton says. ISRI will continue advocating for its members and work with the administration and Congress to influence a final infrastructure package that is recycling friendly.
“I think we have a moral obligation to serve as stewards to the environment and leave the planet in better shape than the way we found it,” Senator Carper says. “Recycling is a way to do that.”