After weeks of negotiations, the Senate voted Wednesday, July 28, to advance a bipartisan legislation bill that includes $550 billion in new spending for infrastructure projects around the U.S. The final text needs to be written, and the bill needs to pass both houses of Congress. But nestled into its pages rests a potential win for ISRI and the recycling industry—the bipartisan RECYCLE Act (S.2941).
If the infrastructure bill passes, the act would authorize a new $15 million annual grant program at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help educate households and consumers about their residential and community recycling programs. It would help decrease contamination in the recycling stream and support recycling infrastructure.
Two of the act’s architects, Billy Johnson, ISRI’s chief lobbyist, and Cliff Rothenstein, government affairs advisor at K&L Gates, set out to confront the underlying problem of contamination in the recycling industry. “People don’t know what they should or shouldn’t be putting in their recycling bins, and they don’t know which recycled materials they have that are the most valuable for recyclers,” Johnson says. “[Cliff and I] looked at it as what would make the most impact, reassure the public confidence, and be supported by everyone—and we think the act does that.”
Providing an education program that teaches the public what can or can’t be recycled should greatly reduce contamination at the start. It should also bring clarity to residential recycling programs and increase recycling in that sector. Since collection and sortation vary by locality, the act directs localities to examine their own recycling processes, update stickers, and explain on a local level what consumers should put in their bins. “It’s simple,” Johnson says. “Sometimes simple things work best. The idea is to fix the problem before it happens. It should help recyclers get good materials that they can process into higher value commodities.”
There’s still a long road ahead for the infrastructure bill as it heads next to the Senate floor—but there’s hope. “The bill made it through the hardest procedural hurdle,” Johnson says. “Our RECYCLE Act is in there; it’s small and agreeable, so we think it’ll make it through the process. If the bill passes, it would be a major victory and big solution for our nation’s residential recycling programs.”
In addition to the grants, the act mandates that the EPA develop a model recycling program toolkit for states, Native American tribes, and local governments. The bill also specifies that the EPA’s review of its procurement guidelines for federal agencies purchasing recycled materials and items made with those materials must occur at least once every five years.