In conjunction with the celebration America Recycles Day, the U.S. Senate Recycling Caucus hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill on Nov. 14. Robin Wiener, president of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington, moderated the briefing.
According to an ISRI report, the briefing highlighted the current state of the U.S. recycling industry from the viewpoint of different stakeholders in the industry, including municipalities, material recycling facilities, consumer brands, and paper and plastic recycling groups. ISRI reports that Wiener used the briefing to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the recycling industry. She outlined the four elements necessary for successful recycling:
1. Recycling is a commodities business that is driven by demand from manufacturers;
2. The value of scrap is directly related to its quality;
3. The industry is far more than residential recycling; and
4. Recycling is a global business.
In addition to Wiener, the panel before the Senate Recycling Caucus included: Stephanie Baker, KW Plastics; Zach Freeze, Walmart; Ben Harvey, E.L. Harvey & Sons; and Annie White, D.C. Department of Public Works’ Office of Waste Diversion.
“China’s actions exposed a number of weaknesses in certain segments of the U.S. recycling infrastructure, particularly with regard to the residential stream,” Wiener told the Senate Recycling Caucus. “The good news is that innovation has always played an important role in advancing recycling. Many recyclers have already begun to change processes and invest in technologies to produce higher grades. But that takes time and money. Investments within the U.S. market are also being made by paper and plastics consumers and will result in increased demand for scrap in the coming years. European and Chinese investors are also moving into the U.S. market to more easily source high quality U.S. scrap.”
Wiener told the caucus that some industry innovation is coming as a result of public-private partnerships within the United States. She said ISRI is currently a member of the Department of Energy’s REMADE Institute, a multiyear, $50 million effort initiated in 2017 to boost manufacturing in the U.S., focused on sustainability and recycling. “What is manufactured today, we hope will be recycled tomorrow. We are increasing our dialogue with manufacturers to ensure end-of-life is a strong consideration in product design,” she added.
Wiener also served as an industry representative at a special summit, “Building a More Resilient System Together,” hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The purpose of the summit was to bring various stakeholders from throughout the recycling chain together to discuss key issues: education and outreach, enhancing materials management infrastructure, strengthening secondary markets and enhancing measurement.
“The EPA plays a critical role in helping recycling rise above current challenges, while taking advantage of the many opportunities that exist throughout the recycling chain,” Wiener said. "The EPA is in a unique position to help foster relationships between manufacturers, brands, state and local governments, consumers, MRF operators, others in the recycling industry and additional stakeholders."
ISRI’s comments to the U.S. Senate Recycling Caucus can be found online.
Also, click here to learn how others in the industry are spending America Recycles Day.