As the Biden administration winds up a 100-day review of America’s critical supply chains during the COVID-19 pandemic, ISRI expresses support of Executive Order 14017 and urges the administration to formally designate the recycling industry as essential to manufacturing. “We could not agree more that the ‘United States needs resilient, diverse and secure supply chains’ to ensure both economic and national security,” ISRI President Robin Wiener says in a letter to the administration. ISRI sent the letter May 25 to Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser; Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council; Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo; and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

At the start of the pandemic, the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Administration (CISA) identified industries essential both to the fight against COVID-19 and the U.S. economy. CISA deemed manufacturing and the manufacturing supply chain—of which recycling is a critical first step—essential. “Some critical manufacturing sectors rely on recyclable materials for meeting as much as 58% (for tissue products such as toilet paper) and more than 90% (for electric arc furnace ‘EAF’ steel mills) of their raw material needs,” ISRI’s letter states.

ISRI also notes over 70% of U.S. steel, about 60% of U.S.-made aluminum, one-third of the U.S. copper supply, and 80% of U.S. paper and paper production all come from recycled materials. The recycling industry accounts for more than 506,000 well-paying direct and indirect jobs within the U.S., and contributes $116 billion in economic output to the national economy. In addition to these economic benefits, recycling protects the environment by

  • Conserving limited natural resources and reducing greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Reducing the need to mine, log, and otherwise deplete natural resources; and
  • Reducing the amount of material sent to landfills.

CISA’s essential designation allowed the recycling industry to stay open through the pandemic, providing materials for manufacturing medical supplies as well as personal and consumer goods. The same capabilities will assist the U.S. pandemic economic recovery.

Unfortunately, many people outside the manufacturing sector are not aware of recyclers’ critical role in the supply chain. As a result, there’s no specific term recycling within the CISA guidance, which created challenges for many recyclers. “We heard of recycling workers stopped on their way to work by local authorities, who questioned their essential status,” says Adina Renee Adler, ISRI’s vice president of advocacy. “Members told us about recycling facilities being visited by local authorities with similar questions about their role.”

Under the executive order, the departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, and Health and Human Services are preparing reports for presidential advisers. In February 2022, the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, HHS, Homeland Security, and Transportation are required to submit more reports on the state of America’s supply chains. The 2022 reports are to assess how dependent supply chains are on “competitor nations,” and their vulnerabilities to disruptions including cyberattacks, disasters, and climate change.

Formally designating recycling as essential to manufacturing will ensure that its role in U.S. supply chain resiliency remains intact and preserve jobs in the event of any future threats that could affect the supply of critical products like commodity-grade recyclable materials. “We are constantly advocating,” Adler says. “The country has a significant shortage for semiconductors, and other goods for the economy, so this supply chain executive order is about resiliency, including in the supply of critical recycled material inputs for these goods.”

Photo courtesy of Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash.

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.