The 100-day review of critical U.S. supply chains President Joe Biden ordered in February has resulted in a 250-page report that recognizes recycling’s role in creating and maintaining resilient supply chains. The report states the federal equivalent of the Bat-Signal for recyclers: “Recycling is one of the original green technology industries in the United States. There is tremendous opportunity for the private sector to grow strategic and critical material recycling as hybrid-electric and full electric vehicles, as well as other emerging technologies, reach end-of-life (EOL).”

During the fight against COVID-19, the recycling industry has provided key resources for new hospital beds, ventilators, toilet paper, and other much-needed supplies, notes Adina Renee Adler, ISRI’s vice president of advocacy. “It’s exciting to see the administration recognize recycling’s critical role in America’s supply chains,” she says. “ISRI stands ready to provide information and work with policymakers to develop meaningful legislation that will position recycling by name as an essential industry, providing quality jobs and using cutting-edge technology, to supply critical manufacturing inputs for U.S. industry.”

To conduct the 100-day appraisal, the administration set up an internal task force spanning more than a dozen federal departments and agencies to review critical commercial, energy, defense, and health infrastructure. The White House consulted with hundreds of stakeholders from labor, business, academic institutions, Congress, and U.S. allies and partners. ISRI submitted comments to the Department of Defense to help with its piece of the report. The report focuses on what the experts identified as the supply chains most in need of resiliency—the ability to recover quickly from an unexpected event.

“Sectors where we seek to advance our technological competitiveness—like high-capacity batteries—will require an ecosystem-building approach that includes supporting domestic demand, investing in domestic production, recycling and R&D [research and development], and targeting support of the U.S. automotive workforce,” the report notes.

Commerce: Semiconductors & Advanced Packaging

Led by the Commerce Department, the review of the semiconductor industry finds that the U.S. accounts for nearly half of global semiconductor revenue, but domestic production has fallen from 37 percent of global production 31 years ago to 12 percent. Asia is the main producer of semiconductors. The administration plans to invest in sustainable domestic and international production and processing of critical minerals. “New sources of funding should be considered to research recycling and reuse of semiconductor industry waste streams for this and other industries,” the report states.

Energy: Large-Capacity Batteries

The Department of Energy’s review of batteries finds that, unlike the U.S., China and the EU have developed and deployed ambitious government-led industrial policies across the supply chain. Recycling is a key subject in the section on batteries, with the report noting, “Increasing U.S. processing capacity alone would bolster the supply chain, and coupled with recycling, is the most promising pathway to securing the supply chain for minerals where the United States does not have significant reserves from which to extract.”

The report acknowledges the rise of electric vehicles (EVs) globally and as a percentage of the federal fleet. It recommends a national recovery and recycling policy for batteries with several goals:

  • Targeted incentives for recycling, like tax credits or rebates.
  • A battery recovery and recycling task force, with input from agencies whose policies cover batteries at all stages of their lifecycles.

“The first action in the recycling task force will be to understand waste considerations and update relevant metrics to ensure there are no local environmental impacts to creating domestic production in this area,” the report notes.

The report recognizes that lithium-ion battery recycling requires scale, in which case the country “requires a comprehensive strategy to reach a sufficient lithium-ion battery recycling rate to create material supply and support recycling profitability.” The strategy could involve executive actions such as “grants, loans and policies to encourage safe domestic recycling;” increase legislative actions, such as “tax incentives, a landfill ban, an extended producer responsibility mandate, or a recycling mandate,” and the strategy should be extended to batteries in consumer electronics as well as EVs.

Defense: Critical Minerals & Materials

The Defense Department’s section of the report acknowledges some current market challenges to increasing recycling of strategic and critical metals and minerals, such as lack of design for recycling, weak market demand, and variable collection schemes across products and jurisdictions. The report recognizes that an improved plan for the sustainability of strategic and critical minerals requires recycling. The Defense Department acknowledges the need to build out recovery and recycling capacity, such as improving collection systems, encouraging the federal government “to adopt industry standards related to designing products to be more readily recyclable,” and supporting R&D to develop recovery technologies.

Health: Pharmaceuticals & Ingredients

Because the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) focused on medicines and their key ingredients in the administration’s first supply chain review without discussing packaging, recycling is not mentioned. In addition to keeping manufacturing in the U.S. and creating new supply chains with friendly nations, the report recommends creating and expanding a virtual strategic stockpile of ingredients and finished doses, focusing on the most critical medications to have on hand for the American public.

Future Actions

“The importance of recycling has never been greater,” Adler says. “From this report, there are several interesting ideas, including targeted incentives, that could strengthen the recycling industry. ISRI’s position is hopeful that future supply chain reviews and actions by various agencies will include more outreach to recyclers, so our members can be true partners in making America’s supply chains resilient.”

Also on June 8, the White House announced:

  • The Department of Energy will release a national blueprint for lithium batteries, and later this month will hold an invitation-only roundtable to discuss it.
  • The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative will create a strike force to tackle unfair foreign trade practices that also hinder supply chain resiliency.

Under the executive order, a second supply chain report will be released in early 2022. The departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, HHS, Homeland Security, and Transportation will contribute to the report.

Photo courtesy of Joey Kyber on Pexels.

Dan Hockensmith

Dan Hockensmith

I'm a native Ohioan who since 2014 has called Maryland home. My background includes print, broadcast, and digital journalism; government contracting; marketing communications; and nonprofit advocacy.