Across manufacturing, recycling is receiving increasing attention. In 2018, China – America’s major end point for recyclables – slashed the amount of the world’s waste that it would accept for recycling, leaving our nation in search of new solutions to recyclables and waste management. Many consumers, especially millennials, see landfills overflowing and waterways awash in waste, and they want change.
To address the problems, the Biden administration passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal last year, which includes $350 million for solid waste and recycling grants. Also in 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled the first national recycling strategy with an aim to increase recycling by 50% by 2030.
EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan introduced the 2021 National Recycling Strategy by pointing out that Americans “have both an opportunity and an obligation to protect and preserve our natural resources for the next generation. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.’ … But those three words can only take us so far – it’s time to transform the United States recycling system … ”
Regan described the National Recycling Strategy as “a critical effort in work to build a circular economy for all. A circular economy is an industrial system that is restorative or regenerative by design. It is a change to the linear model from which resources are mined, made into products, and then thrown away. A circular economy reduces materials use, redesigns materials and products to be less resource intensive, and recaptures ‘waste’ as a resource to manufacture new materials and products.”
The 2021 National Recycling Strategy includes five objectives to strengthen the recycling industry, all of which have implications for manufacturers:
1. Improve markets for recycled commodities through market development, analysis, manufacturing and research.
EPA will promote market development through workshops and other dialogues, an important effort that will benefit US manufacturers that want to be part of the circular economy and that need reliable avenues for recycling their scrap material and plant floor waste.
Additionally, this objective will include a push to help US manufacturers increase their use of regionally sourced recycled material feedstocks and to ensure a consistent supply of those feedstocks.
2. Increase collection of recyclable materials and improve recycling infrastructure through analysis, funding, product design and processing efficiencies.
As part of this objective, EPA will continue to fund R&D, demonstration and deployment of new technologies and strategies for recycling that can be set up on a national scale, creating a more robust recycling chain.
With a boost from EPA, changes in material and product design that increase sustainability will reduce waste. Changes that enhance recoverability will make it easier to recycle items that currently throw a wrench in the recycling gears.
3. Reduce contamination in the recycled materials stream through outreach and education to the public on the value of proper recycling.
Another thing that jams up the recycling process is contaminated recyclables. In many cases, a contaminated recyclable simply ends up being recategorized as non-recyclable and sent to a landfill.
In this area, EPA will reach out to the public with communication and educational materials on how food contamination, for example, hinders the recycling of plastic containers and how simple cleaning of recyclables ensures that they can remain in the recycling stream.
4. Enhance policies and programs to support recyclability and recycling through strengthened federal and international coordination, analysis, research on product pricing and sharing of best practices.
EPA will investigate the topic of product pricing, examining the environmental and social costs that must be factored into a product’s cost, along with the value recovered through recycling of products.
This objective includes the use of an online clearinghouse for sharing best practices on policies, programs, outreach and available funding.
5. Standardize measurement and increase data collection through coordinated recycling definitions, measures, targets and performance indicators.
With this objective, EPA will develop standardized recycling system definitions, measures, targets and performance indicators, making it simpler to gauge progress in the recycling initiative.
EPA also will create recycled content measures to make it easier to verify and compare recycled content in products, allowing consumers to make informed choices while shopping for goods.
For more information, visit https://www.epa.gov/recyclingstrategy.