Washington Capitol Building
The RECYCLE Act aims to help increase recycling rates and reduce contamination in the recycling stream.
© Richard Gunion | Dreamstime.com

Senators introduce RECYCLE Act to increase recycling rates

The bipartisan legislation would authorize $15 million per year over five years in grants to help improve recycling education and outreach.

November 22, 2019

Senators introduced bipartisan legislation that would create a new federal grant program through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help educate households and consumers about residential and community recycling programs.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., have introduced the Recycling Enhancements to Collection and Yield through Consumer Learning and Education (RECYCLE) Act of 2019 (S.B. 2941) to help increase recycling rates and reduce contamination in the recycling stream, according to a news release on Sen. Rob Portman’s website. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Todd Young, R-Ind., are original co-sponsors of this legislation.

If enacted, the RECYCLE Act would:

  • authorize $15 million per year over five years in grants to states, local governments, Indian tribes, nonprofits and public-private partnerships to educate and inform consumers and households about their residential and community recycling programs;
  • direct the EPA to develop a model recycling program toolkit for states, local governments, Indian tribes and partners to deploy in order to improve recycling rates and decrease contamination in the recycling stream; and
  • require the EPA to more frequently review and revise, if appropriate, its Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines, which designate products containing recycled materials and provides recommended practices for federal agencies to purchase such products.

Reports have indicated that consumer confusion on how to properly recycle is one of the top recycling challenges and that education and outreach increase participation in recycling and decrease contamination. According to the EPA, the recycling rate in the U.S. is 35.2 percent and $9 billion worth of recyclable materials are thrown away each year, which presents a big opportunity to improve our nation’s recycling systems. 

In addition, recycling offers numerous environmental and economic benefits, including diverting materials from landfills, using less energy to reprocess recycled material -- which reduces emissions -- and creating jobs. EPA’s 2016 Recycling Economic Information (REI) Report found that recycling supports more than 757,000 jobs and $6.7 billion annually in tax revenues.

“Education and outreach [are key pillars] to improving recycling rates and reducing contamination in our recycling stream,” Portman says. “Reports have indicated that one-third of materials that households put into their recycling bins end up in landfills and are not actually recycled. This is in part because there is confusion about what can actually be recycled, which leads to contamination of materials that could otherwise be recycled but instead are landfilled. Education is a key component in both increasing the amount of material that is being recycled and ensuring that the material being put into community and residential recycling programs is actually being recycled. I am pleased to be introducing the RECYCLE Act with Sen. Stabenow today and look forward to working with my colleagues to get it across the finish line.”

“To improve recycling rates across our country, local communities must have the right tools to recycle in an effective way. Sen. Portman and I introduced this bill to help households understand what can and cannot be recycled and invest in programs that improve recycling practices across the country,” Stabenow adds.

Many groups and associations have expressed support for this bill, including the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), Washington, and the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA), Arlington, Virginia.

“There are a number of legislative efforts being put forth in Congress to tackle the current challenges we are seeing in the nation’s residential recycling system,” says Robin Wiener, president of ISRI. “The focus is to improve the quality of the residential recycling stream and provide incentives for greater market demand for recyclables.

“The RECYCLE Act will help accomplish both goals. Through the consumer recycling education and outreach grant program, we hope to see improvements in the quality of the material entering the stream. And with a stronger procurement process, the federal government is in a position to help drive demand for recyclable materials. Recycling paves the way for the future of our planet. These efforts are proof that recycling is indeed worth it.”

“NWRA welcomes this bipartisan legislation as our industry works to address the challenges it faces from the loss of China as a market for recyclable commodities,” adds NWRA President and CEO Darrell Smith. “We are pleased that the RECYCLE Act recognizes the important roles that nonprofit organizations, as well as public-private partnerships, can play in increasing collection rates and decreasing contamination in residential recycling programs.”