Starting with the civil rights movement of the 1960s, issues of race, class, and the environment have been discussed under the banner of Environmental Justice (EJ). Since 1992, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has had an office dedicated to advancing EJ. The National Law Review recently published a wide-ranging article on EJ’s legal and political significance. Now ISRI has taken a position as well.

ISRI’s board of directors on May 14 adopted a statement of support for the broad objectives of Environmental Justice, including:

  • The equal treatment and opportunity for all people regardless of race, ethnic origin, heritage, language, or economic status;
  • To contribute positively to the communities in which our members operate, including the opportunity to be heard;
  • To promote continued environmental stewardship; and
  • To further promote the health and safety of employees, customers, and communities.

“The U.S. recycling industry has its roots in multi-generational family businesses with longstanding investments and engagement in the communities in which we are located. While the recycling industry today is composed of a mix of small, mid-size and large companies—with some family-owned and others publicly-held corporations—recyclers across the country support the social well-being of our communities through long-term economic investment and stewardship of the environment,” ISRI states. ISRI’s Environmental Justice Working Group developed the declaration. The group includes ISRI members serving in leadership in committees with oversight on ISRI’s work on EJ.

“ISRI members and staff worked diligently to develop a policy regarding EJ, along with talking points, for members to take to our local city halls and statehouses to have meaningful dialog with lawmakers,” says Dan Garvin, ISRI director at large. “I truly believe the work we have done on EJ this last year is as important as previous work ISRI has done on metals theft and safety.”

The association recognizes the roles recyclers play in economic development and environmental sustainability in their communities. ISRI further notes the industry’s commitment to workplace health and safety in the new policy. “We in the recycling industry strive to engage with our communities to achieve mutual understanding and shared goals for the success of all members of the community. It is the recycling industry’s desire that all voices are heard, injustice is avoided, and shared objectives are achieved in ways that are economically and operationally beneficial for all,” ISRI states.

Matthew Tejada, director of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, spoke at ISRI2021 about the role recyclers will play in environmental justice. Tejada’s appearance at the convention followed the April release of a memo from the acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance clarifying inspection and enforcement guidelines for regional offices.

[EJ Requires Long-Term Commitment from Government, Industry]

In January, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that brings several federal agencies onboard a council to advise on EJ-related matters. The order directs the Justice Department to create an Office of Environmental Justice to coordinate with U.S. attorney’s offices nationwide. By February 2022, the Office of Management and Budget will be required to publish an annual scorecard detailing environmental justice performance across the government. State and local governments also are considering EJ issues. ISRI will continue to work on behalf of recyclers to advance EJ policies that benefit recyclers and communities.

“Recycling is essential to Environmental Justice,” says Brian Henesey, ISRI chair-elect. “As the Biden administration shines a light on EJ, it is time for us to be a key part of that conversation. I am confident that by engaging seriously and genuinely in ways to promote Environmental Justice in our communities, we will be lifting ourselves along with our neighbors.”

Photo courtesy of Anna Shvets from 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.