By Dylan de Thomas
Vice President of External Affairs
The Recycling Partnership
For many Americans, recycling is second nature. It’s something that we can’t imagine living without. The ethos of “waste not, want not” runs deep in our collective conscience. We feel bad when we throw something away when we know it can be used again or turned into something new.
It’s why we see overwhelming public support for having the opportunity to put our bottles and cans, our boxes and cartons, and our containers of all shapes and sizes into a recycling cart instead of throwing it away to be burned or buried in a hole in the ground. We take satisfaction in knowing that we are doing our part and that what we are throwing away will be remade into new products. We wanted to enable circularity and a circular economy before it even became part of the popular lexicon.
Recycling is now viewed as the workhorse of the coming circular economy – the engine that will drive it forward. It’s why The Recycling Partnership and its partners have invested millions of dollars and thousands of staff hours to bring recycling infrastructure and education to Americans everywhere. We have shown that recycling has the potential to capture the full value of packaging and materials, enhance the U.S. economy through innovation, create millions of high paying jobs, and help reduce emissions and environmental impact.
Now is a time of transition and new opportunities. With a new Administration in the White House that will focus on climate and infrastructure, and with members of a new Congress ready to reach across the aisle to make impactful change on waste and recycling issues – true bipartisan issues – there is a powerful opportunity for the new leadership at the U.S. EPA to take on the initiative to support the circular economy.
The EPA has led the way in convening stakeholders, including The Recycling Partnership, to discuss and plan for the future of recycling. That engagement effort has resulted in a national recycling strategy and a bold goal of a 50% recycling rate for the country by 2030. As new leadership joins the Agency, we believe that EPA could not be better positioned to reach this goal by continuing the collaborative efforts it has developed with policymakers, and the resources and talents within The Recycling Partnership, environmental nonprofits, corporate partners and local governmental agencies.
Our call for recycling data management improvements was supported by Congressional leaders Rep. McCollum and Rep. Stevens, with Rep. Pingree and Rep. Takano, who requested a U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the cross-cutting challenges facing the recycling system and how the our federal government could address those challenges head on. The resulting GAO report is a powerful call for EPA and other federal agencies like the Departments of Commerce and Energy and the Federal Trade Commission to step up and lead the way. The GAO report calls on the EPA to develop its proposed recycling strategy and take it even further – to conduct studies, gather data, and develop strong recommendations on actions to be taken to make recycling a true, national system.
This measurement work is a key factor in successfully moving the U.S. residential recycling system to a 21st Century reality. Our recently released policy report builds on this need for data and measurement. It was developed in conjunction with corporate partners throughout the recycling system that came together and acknowledged their role in improving U.S. recycling by endorsing the report’s central component: a fee on all printed paper and packaging that would be paid by the companies themselves. It is another bold move toward realizing the vision of bringing a 20th century system into a 21st century reality.
Now is the time to partner with a cross-industry coalition of companies, non-governmental organizations and nonprofits – yes, like The Recycling Partnership – to unlock the circular economy and enjoy the employment, environmental, and economic benefits that we know will come from it.
The EPA has a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to the American people to rebuild, refresh, and renew its efforts in the weeks and months ahead. Americans recycle and we want to recycle more because we all understand “waste not, want not.”
Dylan Thomas is Vice President of External Affairs with The Recycling Partnership. The Recycling Partnership (recyclingpartnership.org) is a national nonprofit organization that leverages corporate partner funding to transform recycling for good in states, cities and communities nationwide.