The NCSL Foundation for State Legislatures is undertaking an exciting new venture focused on recycling in the United States.
It will follow the life cycle of products and explore policy initiative and innovative strategies to address the challenges brought about by shifting economic conditions, trade policies and consumer behavior. The partnership will provide legislatures, legislative staff and private sector partners a space to share information on industry issues and approaches, and work towards expanding expertise surrounding the recycling industry and developing best practices for states to consider.
Reduce what you use, reuse what you can, recycle everything else. Many of us are familiar with the three Rs of waste management. The first two tenets are relatively straightforward, but the last involves far more than tossing items into the blue bin. As such, the conversation surrounding the three Rs of waste management has transformed significantly within the last decade, with both policymakers and influencers working to adapt to the ever-evolving market.
Not only does recycling reduce the amount of waste headed to landfills, it also conserves natural resources, saves energy and creates jobs. In addition to the environmental benefits, recycling plays a critical role in supplying raw materials for manufacturing new products, and is essential to the manufacturing industry and state economies.
Though many aspects of the recycling industry are and will remain strong, it is not without challenges. From China’s import ban on solid waste to the COVID-19 pandemic, much of the U.S. recycling industry is facing major aftershocks which have been felt by consumers, manufacturers and materials recovery facilities.
Changing international policies have limited the export of recyclables and left domestic markets struggling to keep up. Contamination in the recycling stream and dated infrastructure also affect operations, as well as products and packaging that were not designed for recycling. Finally, consumer confusion and a growing lack of confidence in the system are also major issues.
Given the absence of a federal recycling law, state and local governments are responsible for their own requirements and have taken various actions to address the innumerable nuances of recycling in their own communities.
States are gathering data, making investments in infrastructure, rolling out new public education campaigns and establishing market development centers. Many have also taken steps to limit single-use plastics and reduce food waste in favor of a circular economy. At the same time, industry is looking to more sustainable materials and designing products for easier recycling Not only are we seeing action across the states and within industry, but Congress is also beginning to dip its toes into the recycling space, drafting legislation that could potentially have broad impact for all stakeholders.