EPA looks back on recycling progress in US as it pushes for further improvement

EPA looks back on recycling progress in US as it pushes for further improvement

According to the EPA, recycling benefits communities, the environment and the American economy, accounting for nearly 757,000 jobs and $36.6 billion in annual wages.

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As part of its 50th anniversary celebration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has highlighted the progress the U.S. has made in recycling and outlined how it is working with its partners to address current challenges. According to the EPA, recycling benefits communities, the environment and the American economy, accounting for nearly 757,000 jobs and $36.6 billion in annual wages.

“Since EPA was founded in 1970, the U.S. recycling rate has risen from 10 percent to 35 percent, and we aim to push it even higher,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler says. “Later this year, EPA will establish new national recycling goals and take steps to support the recycling industry in new ways.”

“Recycling is a tangible way that everyone, every day, can help protect human health and the environment,” EPA Office of Land and Emergency Management Assistant Administrator Peter Wright says. “The positive impacts on both our environment and economy are more important than ever.”

When EPA was founded, the national recycling rate was less than 10 percent. Curbside recycling was not an option until 1980 when Woodbury, New Jersey, became the first city to offer collection at the curb. Today, recycling programs can be found across the country.

Despite this progress, the U.S. recycling system is facing a number of challenges. To combat some of these issues, Wheeler hosted the first America Recycles Day Summit in November 2018. The summit brought together stakeholders from across the U.S. recycling system to join EPA in signing the America Recycles Pledge and identify four action areas:

  • promote education and outreach;
  • enhance materials management infrastructure;
  • strengthen secondary material markets; and
  • enhance measurement.

Last year, at the 2019 America Recycles Day Summit, EPA released the National Framework for Advancing the U.S. Recycling System, and Wheeler announced that EPA would establish a national recycling goal in 2020.  

EPA and the now more than 200 America Recycles Pledge signers have made significant progress since first convening in 2018, EPA says.

Over the past year, EPA has been continuing to work with the pledge signers to develop a “virtual clearinghouse” to assist municipalities and local governments in finding recycling resources in one centralized place. The America Recycles network has also developed a map of the U.S. recycling system to help set national recycling goals. EPA has hosted recycling market development workshops, issued public service announcements encouraging recycling “right” during COVID-19 and published a Federal Register notice seeking comment on the federal government’s “buy recycled” program, under the authority of EPA’s Comprehensive Procurement Guidelines (CPG).

More information on the EPA’s efforts to improve the recycling infrastructure in the U.S. can be found online.