EPA releases National Recycling Strategy
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its “2021 National Recycling Strategy” Nov. 15, the start of America Recycles Week. The strategy is designed to address major recycling challenges, including contamination, to create “a stronger, more resilient and cost-effective municipal solid waste recycling system,” the agency says, with the goal of achieving a 50 percent national recycling rate by 2030. The strategy also addresses the climate impacts of producing, using and disposing of materials and the human health and environmental impacts of waste and waste-related facilities in overburdened communities.
According to the strategy, “The National Recycling Goal and the National Recycling Strategy are integrated and support the ultimate goal of improving recycling and increasing circularity within the United States. The methodology to measure the recycling goal and its key metrics is under development and was expected to be finalized later [in 2021]. In the development of the implementation plan, the EPA will bring the recycling goal and National Recycling Strategy together into a comprehensive plan. As the EPA moves beyond recycling to develop additional strategies, the EPA also will develop a new goal to reduce the climate impacts from materials production, consumption, use and disposal that will complement the focus on a circular economy approach. This new goal will complement the National Recycling Goal, as well as the U.S. goal to halve food loss and waste by 2030.”
In what was a response to international policy changes and other challenges, the EPA focused on U.S. recycling, hosting the inaugural America Recycles Day Summit in 2018. That was followed by publishing the “National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System” in 2019, a collaborative effort by stakeholders from across the recycling system that highlighted the need to promote education and outreach, enhance infrastructure, strengthen materials markets and enhance measurement. The “2021 National Recycling Strategy” adds environmental justice and circular economy focuses.
The EPA says among the challenges the U.S. recycling system faces are reduced markets for recyclables, recycling infrastructure that has not kept pace with today’s changing material stream, confusion about what materials can be recycled and varying methodologies to measure recycling system performance. The “2021 National Recycling Strategy” identifies actions designed to address these challenges under its five strategic objectives:
1. improve markets for recycled commodities through market development, analysis, manufacturing as well as research;
2. increase collection of recyclables and improve recycling infrastructure through analysis, funding, product design and processing efficiencies;
3. reduce contamination in the recycled materials stream through outreach and education to the public on the value of proper recycling;
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; and
5. standardize measurement and increase data collection through coordinated recycling definitions, measurements, targets and performance indicators.
The EPA says it will work with stakeholders to develop a plan to implement the strategy.
The circular economy approach to materials management represents a change in how the nation currently mines resources, makes them into products and then disposes of those products. This approach would reduce material use, redesign materials and products to be less resource-intensive and recapture “waste” to use in manufacturing new materials and products, according to the EPA.