This Is Plastics: America’s recycling system is not broken, but needs more investment, support

Environment

America’s recycling system is not broken, but needs more investment, support

Committee hearing reviews recycling bills that ignore ongoing recycling efforts and would hurt environment, jobs and access to basic goods.

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The House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s hearing this week, “No Time to Waste: Solutions for America’s Broken Recycling System,” is taking a much-needed look at solutions that can increase recycling rates and reduce waste. Unfortunately, some of the legislation under consideration will not set out realistic pathways to improve these situations.

Our recycling system is not broken. In fact, recycling rates for all post-consumer waste stand at about 25%, with some materials reaching recycling rates of nearly 70%. While this is reassuring, there is of course always more the government, industry and consumers can do to further support and increase U.S. recycling rates. But this must be approached in the right way.

Today’s hearing will review the following bills, which approach the fortification of recycling systems in different ways, some more helpful than others:

  • H.R. 8059—The Recycling and Composting Accountability Act (RCAA) would allow the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator to improve recycling and composting programs in the United States by working with state and local governments to implement the best strategies for each region. This Act would also improve reporting on recycling and composting at the federal level.
  • H.R. 8183—The Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act (RIAA) of 2022 aims to establish a pilot program to improve recycling accessibility throughout the country via investments in infrastructure in underserved communities. The bill would leverage a hub-and-spoke model for recycling infrastructure development and would be supported by government grants.  
  • H.R. 1512—The Climate Leadership and Environmental Action for our Nation’s (CLEAN) Future Act would place countless American jobs at risk by instituting a temporary ban on new plastics facilities that could easily stretch on for years – as is almost certainly the goal of its supporters. This bill would also pause new permits for advanced recycling facilities, which is exactly the opposite of what is needed to supercharge our recycling system. These facilities make it possible for many plastics to be 100% recyclable, boosting a circular economy that could reach 7.5 million metric tons in less than ten years and generate revenue of up to $120 billion in the U.S. and Canada. The CLEAN Future Act would jeopardize this solution and place our recycling system at risk.
  • H.R. 2238—The Break Free From Plastic Pollution (Break Free) Act of 2021 is a misguided bill that would severely damage America’s economy and could result in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The bill threatens the jobs of the nearly one million people who work in the domestic plastics industry and would completely up-end our country’s already strained supply chains. What’s more, it would incentivize the production of less energy-efficient materials, such as glass, tin, aluminum and paper, which have a larger carbon footprint than plastics. 

The Recycling and Composting Accountability Act and the Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act focus on increasing funding, reporting and transparency and collaboration with state and local governments to reach real solutions to improve recycling systems. These provide a realistic approach to plastic, and other material waste challenges. By investing in recycling systems so they are able to handle ever-increasing levels of post-consumer materials, more material can be recycled more efficiently.

Contrarily, bills like the Break Free and CLEAN Future Acts, which aim to reduce waste by banning certain materials, will only hurt our recycling systems and accessibility. They are bad policies peddling false solutions.

Both bills would place a moratorium on new plastics manufacturing and ban single use plastics, reducing access to affordable products that we use every day and increasing already-high prices for individuals and small businesses while doing nothing to support the improvement or fortification of recycling systems.

The plastics industry is investing billions of dollars in recycling technologies, but more investment is needed. The Recycling and Composting Accountability Act and the Recycling Infrastructure and Accessibility Act take the right approach by allocating funding and supporting collaborative approaches. Clean Future and Break Free will push manufacturing overseas to less environmentally responsible nations or bans the most promising solutions to plastic waste and pursuing these policies will unfortunately be a waste of valuable time and resources.

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